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The Aging Immune System and Health

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The world population presents an increased percentage of individuals over 65 years old and the fastest growing subgroup is over 85 years old. The increase in life expectancy observed in the last century has not been synonymous with extra years lived in good health (disability-free years). Population studies ...

The world population presents an increased percentage of individuals over 65 years old and the fastest growing subgroup is over 85 years old. The increase in life expectancy observed in the last century has not been synonymous with extra years lived in good health (disability-free years). Population studies have shown that as individuals age, they can present a great heterogeneity of ability and health. Therefore, aging has been associated for some individuals with disabilities and hospitalizations. Deaths related to infectious pathogens are increased in the aging population mainly due to pneumonia and influenza whereas Cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, among other viruses seem to contribute to the low-grade inflammatory process observed (inflammaging).

Aging is a complex and multifactorial process in which functions of the organism are adjusted (remodelled) in order to deal with damaging events during life. One of the most important changes in aging individuals occurs in the immune system (innate and adaptive responses) with consequences such as poor response to new infections and vaccinations; increased susceptibility to cancer development and autoimmune diseases; frailty, and organ dysfunction. In addition, it has been proposed that immunosenescence not only reflects the aging of the organism but also contributes to this process. Bone marrow presents decreased hematopoiesis, the thymus undergoes involution and lymphoid organs (lymph nodes, spleen) also present reduced functionality. Therefore, cells derived, matured, or residing in these tissues decline in number and function. These changes have been identified in experimental models, in vitro conditions, peripheral blood, and biopsies via biomarkers such as cell phenotype, stimulus-induced proliferation, cytokines and antibodies levels. Telomere length and telomerase activity also decline in bone marrow-derived and peripheral blood cells and have been shown to play a role in immunosenescence. More recently, the investigation of short non-coding RNA molecules (microRNAs; miRNAs) pointed to this system as a possible control of aging-related mechanisms.

Data obtained on these markers for aging individuals could lead to the generation of a marker panel for pathology prediction, to indicate interventions, and to evaluate the efficacy of interventions. Interventions such as nutrition supplements, exercise, vaccination (different dose, concentration of antigen, adjuvants) have been proposed to circumvent age-related diseases. Considering the heterogeneity in the aging process, further investigation is vital before the indication of interventions for aging individuals. As the extension of life expectancy is a reality, it is a challenge to understand how the aging population copes with the remodelling of the organism and how interventions could provide longevity in good health.


Keywords: Aging, Immunosenescence, Biomarkers, Health, Lifespan


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