The umbrella term 'immunosenescence' is applied to describe age-associated failing systemic immunity and is believed to contribute to the increased incidence and severity of infectious disease in old animals and people. Very limited studies in man have begun to reveal biomarkers of immune ageing ('immune signatures') increasingly recognized as an 'immune risk profile' (IRP) predicting mortality in the elderly. Even more limited studies in companion animals seem consistent with the idea that most or all other mammals may also show an IRP. It is of practical and scientific interest to more accurately determine the IRP and to devise interventions to modulate immune ageing. In man, cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection has an enormous impact on biomarkers associated with immunosenescence; it is not clear whether the same is true for a persistent viral infection in other animals. A significant fraction of the human immune system is committed to controlling CMV; this commitment increases with age and may itself cause pathology as a result of maintaining higher systemic levels of inflammatory mediators. It will be interesting to test whether similar phenomena occur in relatively long-lived animals, often sharing a human environment, like cats and dogs, and whether interventions to restore appropriate immunity in companion animals might also be applicable to people.
Copyright 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.