It is well known that aging is associated with various alterations in lymphoid cell functions, particularly with a progressive decline in immune responsiveness to exogenous antigens and increasing incidence of autoimmune phenomena. Many studies have been focused on the mechanisms of the immunologic features of aging. This review describes our results of studies performed to determine the influence of age on the capacity to produce interleukin-2 (IL-2), interferon-γ (IFN-γ), interleukin-4 (IL-4), interleukin-5 (IL-5), interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor (TNF). Mitogen-stimulated cultures of mononuclear cells (MNC) from human beings were assessed for cytokine-producing capacity. A significant decrease in IFN-γ and IL-2 production by MNC cultures from elderly individuals was observed. No significant difference was instead observed between cultures from elderly individuals and those from young ones as regards TNF-α, IL-4 and IL-6 production. Mitogen or antigen-stimulated cultures of MNC from aged mice also displayed a significant decrease in IFN-γ and IL-2 production as well as TNF-β. Instead IL-4 and IL-5 production significantly increased in these cultures. We suggest that this imbalanced cytokine production may well account for the pattern of immune response which may be observed in the elderly, i.e. a normal or increased humoral response (including autoimmune responses) in face of a low T cell immune responsiveness.
Key WordsAging Autoimmunity Cytokines Immune response Immunodeficiency
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