Researchers find age not factor in immunity to viruses

December 13, 2012

Our immune system does not shut down with age, says a new study led by McMaster University researchers.

A study published in PLOS Pathogens today shows a specialized class of immune cells, known as , can respond to in an older person with the same vigour as T cells from a young person.

"For a long time, it was thought the elderly were at a higher risk of infections because they lacked these immune cells, but that simply isn't the case," said Jonathan Bramson, the study's principal investigator. "The elderly are certainly capable of developing immunity to viruses."

Researchers at McMaster, University of Toronto and the University of Pennsylvania examined individuals, younger than 40, between 41 to 59 years of age and older than 60, infected with three different viruses, including West Nile, and found the older group demonstrated perfectly normal immune responses.

Both the number of virus-fighting T cells and the functionality of the T cells were equivalent in all three groups.

"So as we age, our bodies are still able to respond to new viruses, while keeping us immune to viruses we've been exposed to in the past," Bramson said.

He added that these results have important implications for vaccination of elderly individuals.

Currently, vaccines for the elderly aren't designed to elicit responses from these , and this might explain the lack of effective protection from the , he said.

Vaccines specifically designed to generate T- may be more effective at protecting older adults, Bramson said.

More information: Lelic A, Verschoor CP, Ventresca M, Parsons R, Evelegh C, et al. (2012) The Polyfunctionality of Human Memory CD8+ T Cells Elicited by Acute and Chronic Virus Infections Is Not Influenced by Age. PLoS Pathog 8(12): e1003076. dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1003076

Related Stories

Recommended for you

New insight into how the immune system sounds the alarm

August 3, 2015

T cells are the guardians of our bodies: they constantly search for harmful invaders and diseased cells, ready to swarm and kill off any threats. A better understanding of these watchful sentries could allow scientists to ...

How to become a T follicular helper cell

July 30, 2015

Follicular helper Tcells (TFH cells), a rare type of immune cell that is essential for inducing a strong and lasting antibody response to viruses and other microbes, have garnered intense interest in recent years but the ...

Uncovering the secrets of immune system invaders

July 20, 2015

The human immune system is a powerful and wonderful creation. If you cut your skin, your body mobilizes a series of different proteins and cells to heal the cut. If you are infected by a virus or bacteria, your immune system ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.