The cellular composition of the human immune system is shaped by age and cohabitation

Nat Immunol. 2016 Apr;17(4):461-468. doi: 10.1038/ni.3371. Epub 2016 Feb 15.


Detailed population-level description of the human immune system has recently become achievable. We used a 'systems-level' approach to establish a resource of cellular immune profiles of 670 healthy individuals. We report a high level of interindividual variation, with low longitudinal variation, at the level of cellular subset composition of the immune system. Despite the profound effects of antigen exposure on individual antigen-specific clones, the cellular subset structure proved highly elastic, with transient vaccination-induced changes followed by a return to the individual's unique baseline. Notably, the largest influence on immunological variation identified was cohabitation, with 50% less immunological variation between individuals who share an environment (as parents) than between people in the wider population. These results identify local environmental conditions as a key factor in shaping the human immune system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / immunology*
  • Antigens / immunology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Environment
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Female
  • Homeostasis / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immune System / cytology*
  • Influenza Vaccines / immunology
  • Leukocytes / immunology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Systems Analysis
  • Young Adult


  • Antigens
  • Influenza Vaccines