B-cell diversity decreases in old age and is correlated with poor health status

Aging Cell. 2009 Feb;8(1):18-25. doi: 10.1111/j.1474-9726.2008.00443.x. Epub 2008 Nov 5.


Older people suffer from a decline in immune system, which affects their ability to respond to infections and to raise efficient responses to vaccines. Effective and specific antibodies in responses from older individuals are decreased in favour of non-specific antibody production. We investigated the B-cell repertoire in DNA samples from peripheral blood of individuals aged 86-94 years, and a control group aged 19-54 years, using spectratype analysis of the IGHV complementarity determining region (CDR)3. We found that a proportion of older individuals had a dramatic collapse in their B-cell repertoire diversity. Sequencing of polymerase chain reaction products from a selection of samples indicated that this loss of diversity was characterized by clonal expansions of B cells in vivo. Statistical analysis of the spectratypes enabled objective comparisons and showed that loss of diversity correlated very strongly with the general health status of the individuals; a distorted spectratype can be used to predict frailty. Correlations with survival and vitamin B12 status were also seen. We conclude that B-cell diversity can decrease dramatically with age and may have important implications for the immune health of older people. B-cell immune frailty is also a marker of general frailty.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / blood*
  • Aging / genetics
  • Aging / immunology*
  • B-Lymphocytes / cytology*
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Complementarity Determining Regions / genetics
  • Complementarity Determining Regions / immunology
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin Heavy Chains / genetics
  • Immunoglobulin Heavy Chains / immunology
  • Immunoglobulin Variable Region / genetics
  • Immunoglobulin Variable Region / immunology
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / cytology
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / immunology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Young Adult


  • Complementarity Determining Regions
  • Immunoglobulin Heavy Chains
  • Immunoglobulin Variable Region