Factors that may impact on immunosenescence: an appraisal

Immun Ageing. 2010 Jun 14;7:7. doi: 10.1186/1742-4933-7-7.


The increasing ratio of ageing population poses new challenges to healthcare systems. The elderly frequently suffer from severe infections. Vaccination could protect them against several infectious diseases, but it can be effective only if cells that are capable of responding are still present in the repertoire. Recent vaccination strategies in the elderly might achieve low effectiveness due to age-related immune impairment. Immunosenescence affects both the innate and adaptive immunity.Beside individual variations of genetic predisposition, epigenetic changes over the full course of human life exert immunomodulating effects. Disturbances in macrophage-derived cytokine release and reduction of the natural killer cell mediated cytotoxicity lead to increased frequency of infections. Ageing dampens the ability of B cells to produce antibodies against novel antigens. Exhausted memory B lymphocyte subsets replace naïve cells. Decline of cell-mediated immunity is the consequence of multiple changes, including thymic atrophy, reduced output of new T lymphocytes, accumulation of anergic memory cells, and deficiencies in cytokines production. Persistent viral and parasitic infections contribute to the loss of immunosurveillance and premature exhaustion of T cells. Reduced telomerase activity and Toll-like receptor expression can be improved by chemotherapy. Reversion of thymic atrophy could be achieved by thymus transplantation, depletion of accumulated dysfunctional naive T cells and herpesvirus-specific exhausted memory cells. Administration of interleukin (IL)-2, IL-7, IL-10, keratinocyte growth factor, thymic stromal lymphopoietin, as well as leptin and growth hormone boost thymopoiesis. In animals, several strategies have been explored to produce superior vaccines. Among them, virosomal vaccines containing polypeptide antigens or DNA plasmids as well as new adjuvanted vaccine formulations elicit higher dendritic cell activity and more effective serologic than conventional vaccines responses in the elderly. Hopefully, at least some of these approaches can be translated to human medicine in a not too far future.