Human immunosenescence: Does it have an infectious component?

G. Pawelec, S. Koch, C. Franceschi, A. Wikby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The rate of acceleration of the frequency of death due to cardiovascular disease or cancer increases with age from middle age up to around 75-80 years, plateauing thereafter. Mortality due to infectious disease, however, does not plateau, but continues to accelerate indefinitely. The elderly are particularly susceptible to novel infectious agents such as SARS, as well as to previously encountered pathogens. Why is this¿ The elderly commonly possess oligoclonal expansions of T cells, especially of CD8 cells, which, surprisingly, are associated with cytomegalovirus (CMV) seropositivity. This in turn is associated with many of the same phenotypic and functional alterations to T cell immunity that have been suggested as biomarkers of immune system aging. We suggest that, in fact, CMV, not age per se, is the prime driving force behind many or most of the oligoclonal expansions and altered phenotypes and functions of CD8 cells in the elderly. Thus, the manner in which CMV and the host immune system interact (over which period¿ on which genetic background¿ with which co-infections¿) is critical in determining the "age" of adaptive immunity and hence human longevity. In this respect, immunosenescence is infectious.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-65
Number of pages10
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - May 2006


  • CD8 T lymphocyte
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Immunosenescence
  • Longitudinal study

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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