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[Impact of thymic function in age-related immune deterioration].

Research paper by Sara S Ferrando-Martínez, Mónica M de la Fuente, Juan Miguel JM Guerrero, Manuel M Leal, M Ángeles MÁ Muñoz-Fernández

Indexed on: 05 Mar '13Published on: 05 Mar '13Published in: Revista Española de Geriatría y Gerontología



Abstract

Age-related biological deterioration also includes immune system deterioration and, in consequence, a rise in the incidence and prevalence of infections and cancers, as well as low responses to vaccination strategies. Out of all immune cell subsets, T-lymphocytes seem to be involved in most of the age-related defects. Since T-lymphocytes mature during their passage through the thymus, and the thymus shows an age-related process of atrophy, thymic regression has been proposed as the triggering event of this immune deterioration in elderly people. Historically, it has been accepted that the young thymus sets the T-lymphocyte repertoire during the childhood, whereupon atrophy begins until the elderly thymus is a non-functional evolutionary trace. However, a rising body of knowledge points toward the thymus functioning during adulthood. In the elderly, higher thymic function is associated with a younger immune system, while thymic function failure is associated with all-cause mortality. Therefore, any new strategy focused on the improvement of the elderly quality of life, especially those trying to influence the immune system, should take into account, together with peripheral homeostasis, thymus function as a key element in slowing down age-related decline.