Inflammation, genetic background and longevity
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Ageing is an inexorable intrinsic process that affects all cells, tissues, organs and individuals. Due to a diminished homeostasis and increased organism frailty, ageing causes a reduction of the response to environmental stimuli and, in general, is associated to an increased predisposition to illness and death. Actually, it is characterized by a state of reduced ability to maintain health and general homeodynamics of the organism. A large part of the ageing phenotype is explained by an imbalance between inflammatory and anti-inflammatory networks, which results in the low grade chronic pro-inflammatory status of ageing, “inflamm-ageing”. It is strictly linked to immunosenescence, and on the whole they are the major contributory factors to the increased frequency of morbidity and mortality among elderly. Inflamm-ageing is compatible with longevity; even if centenarians have an increased level of inflammatory mediators in comparison to old subjects and they are very frail, they also have high level of anti-inflammatory cytokines together with protective genotypes. Actually, data on case control studies performed in Italian centenarians suggest that a pro-inflammatory genotype is unfavourable to reach extreme longevity in good health and likely favours the onset of age-related diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and Alzheimer’s disease, the leading causes of mortality and disability in the elderly. However, many associations between gene variants and longevity have been found only in Italian population. This should not be unexpected, since ageing and longevity are complex traits resulting not only and not exclusively from genetics, but rather from the interactions between genetics, environment and chance.