To study the decreasing responsiveness of the immune system during aging, influenza virus specific cellular immunity was investigated in a cohort of healthy blood donors between 18 and 70 years of age. The percentage of influenza A virus specific T cells was determined by flow cytometry and found not to change during aging. After stimulation with phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate and ionomycin, an increase in the percentage of IFN-γ and IL-4 producing CD8+ T cells was observed during aging. In addition, the cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) activity was investigated in two additional groups of five donors, 18-20 and 68-70 years of age. The lytic capacity of purified CD8+ T cells, after in vitro stimulation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells with influenza A virus, seemed lower in 68- to 70-year-old donors than in 18- to 20-year-old donors. Therefore we conclude that the reduced CTL activity in the elderly is not the result of a lower frequency of virus-specific T cells, but more likely the result of impaired antigen-specific proliferation or lower lytic capacity of these cells.

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Department of Virology

Boon, A.C.M, Fringuelli, E, Graus, Y.M.F, Fouchier, R.A.M, Sintnicolaas, K, Iorio, A.M, … Osterhaus, A.D.M.E. (2002). Influenza A virus specific T cell immunity in humans during aging. Virology, 299(1), 100–108. doi:10.1006/viro.2002.1491