The dramatic decline in immune function with age, especially in T cell proliferative activity, has been documented extensively in experimental animal models and in clinical studies of the elderly. A similar proliferative decline is also seen in long-term T lymphocyte cultures used to study in vitro cellular senescence. We have compared the peripheral blood T lymphocytes of centenarians and younger controls for the cell surface expression of CD28, a costimulatory molecule that is required for optimal activation and proliferation following engagement of the T cell receptor. Our analysis shows a significant decrease (p < 0.001) in the percentage of T cells expressing CD28 in the elderly cohort, with values ranging from 44% to 90%, as compared to the mean control value of 91%. The decline in the percentage of CD28+ T cells correlates with a reduction in the CD4/CD8 ratio (r2 = 0.695, p < 0.0001). Concommitantly, experiments using an in vitro T cell culture system showed a progressive loss of CD28 expression with culture "age." The concordance of proliferative decline and loss of CD28 in the centenarians and in the in vitro cultures suggest that a Hayflick phenomenon may operate in vivo leading to immunosenescence.