The unmet need in the elderly: how immunosenescence, CMV infection, co-morbidities and frailty are a challenge for the development of more effective influenza vaccines

Vaccine. 2012 Mar 9;30(12):2060-7. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2012.01.015. Epub 2012 Jan 27.


Influenza remains the single most important cause of excess disability and mortality during the winter months. In spite of widespread influenza vaccination programs leading to demonstrated cost-savings in the over 65 population, hospitalization and death rates for acute respiratory illnesses continue to rise. As a person ages, increased serum levels of inflammatory cytokines are commonly recorded (TNF-α, IL-1, IL-6). Termed "inflammaging", this has been linked to persistent cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection and immune senescence, while increased anti-inflammatory cytokines (IL-10, TGF-β) are possibly associated with more healthy aging. Paradoxically, a shift with aging toward an anti-inflammatory (IL-10) response and decline in the IFN-γ:IL-10 ratio in influenza-challenged peripheral blood mononuclear cells is associated with a decline in the cytolytic capacity of CD8+ T cells responsible for clearing influenza virus from infected lung tissue. Thus, it is seemingly counter intuitive that the immune phenotype of healthy aging predicts a poor cell-mediated immune response and more serious outcomes of influenza. Herein we postulate a mechanistic link between the accumulation of late-stage, potentially terminally differentiated T cells, many or most of which result from CMV infection, and the immunopathogenesis of influenza infection, mediated by granzyme B in older adults. Further, adjuvanted influenza vaccines that stimulate inflammatory cytokines and suppress the IL-10 response to influenza challenge, would be expected to enhance protection in the 65+ population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / immunology*
  • Cytokines / blood
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / immunology
  • Humans
  • Influenza Vaccines / administration & dosage*
  • Influenza Vaccines / immunology*
  • Influenza, Human / mortality*
  • Influenza, Human / prevention & control*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*


  • Cytokines
  • Influenza Vaccines