Public Release:  The aging immune system is more functional than previously believed

PLOS

In a study published today in the Open Access journal PLOS Pathogens, scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario have determined that a specialized class of immune cells, known as T cells, retains its functionality with age and can respond to virus infections with the same vigor as T cells from a young person. This is a valuable finding as it is generally believed that elderly individuals are at increased risk of infection because immunity deteriorates with age.

T cells play an important role in defending the body from virus infections. For a long time, researchers have believed that the elderly were at increased risk of infection due to a lack of T cells. However, new research led by Jonathan Bramson and a team of researchers from McMaster as well as the University of Toronto and the University of Pennsylvania has shown that, in fact, elderly individuals mount perfectly normal immune responses to virus infections. The researchers studied the immune response to 3 different viruses in young individuals and elderly individuals. They found that both the number of virus-fighting T cells and the functionality of the T cells were equivalent in both groups.

This research indicates that as humans age, our bodies retain the ability to mount robust T cell responses to new viruses, while maintaining immunity to viruses we have been exposed to in the past. These results have important implications for vaccination of elderly individuals. Current vaccines for the elderly are not designed to elicit T cells responses and this may explain the failure of the annual influenza vaccine to provide effective protection of elderly individuals. Ultimately, this research indicates that vaccines specifically designed to generate T cell immunity may be more effective at protecting elderly individuals from virus infections.

###

FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE: This work was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

COMPETING INTERESTS: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

PLEASE ADD THIS LINK TO THE PUBLISHED ARTICLE IN ONLINE VERSIONS OF YOUR REPORT: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1003076 (link will go live upon embargo lift)

CITATION: 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. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1003076

Contact:
Gina Alvino
(415) 568-3173
plospathogens@plos.org

Disclaimer

This press release refers to an upcoming article in PLOS Pathogens. The release is provided by the article authors. Any opinions expressed in these releases or articles are the personal views of the journal staff and/or article contributors, and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of PLOS. PLOS expressly disclaims any and all warranties and liability in connection with the information found in the releases and articles and your use of such information.

Media Permissions

PLOS Journals publish under a Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits free reuse of all materials published with the article, so long as the work is cited (e.g., Kaltenbach LS et al. (2007) Huntingtin Interacting Proteins Are Genetic Modifiers of Neurodegeneration. PLoS Genet 3(5): e82. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0030082). No prior permission is required from the authors or publisher. For queries about the license, please contact the relative journal contact indicated here: http://www.plos.org/about/media-inquiries/.

About PLOS Pathogens

PLOS Pathogens publishes outstanding original articles that significantly advance the understanding of pathogens and how they interact with their host organisms. All works published in PLOS Pathogens are open access. Everything is immediately available subject only to the condition that the original authorship and source are properly attributed. Copyright is retained by the authors. The Public Library of Science uses the Creative Commons Attribution License.

About the Public Library of Science

The Public Library of Science (PLOS) is a non-profit organization of scientists and physicians committed to making the world's scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource. For more information, visit http://www.plos.org.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.