PloS one

NK-like T cells and plasma cytokines, but not anti-viral serology, define immune fingerprints of resilience and mild disability in exceptional aging.

PMID 22028907


Exceptional aging has been defined as maintenance of physical and cognitive function beyond the median lifespan despite a history of diseases and/or concurrent subclinical conditions. Since immunity is vital to individual fitness, we examined immunologic fingerprint(s) of highly functional elders. Therefore, survivors of the Cardiovascular Health Study in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA were recruited (n = 140; mean age = 86 years) and underwent performance testing. Blood samples were collected and examined blindly for humoral factors and T cell phenotypes. Based on results of physical and cognitive performance testing, elders were classified as "impaired" or "unimpaired", accuracy of group assignment was verified by discriminant function analysis. The two groups showed distinct immune profiles as determined by factor analysis. The dominant immune signature of impaired elders consisted of interferon (IFN)-γ, interleukin (IL)-6, tumor necrosis factor-α, and T cells expressing inhibitory natural killer-related receptors (NKR) CD158a, CD158e, and NKG2A. In contrast, the dominant signature of unimpaired elders consisted of IL-5, IL-12p70, and IL-13 with co-expression of IFN-γ, IL-4, and IL-17, and T cells expressing stimulatory NKRs CD56, CD16, and NKG2D. In logistic regression models, unimpaired phenotype was predicted independently by IL-5 and by CD4(+)CD28(null)CD56(+)CD57(+) T cells. All elders had high antibody titers to common viruses including cytomegalovirus. In cellular bioassays, T cell receptor (TCR)-independent ligation of either CD56 or NKG2D elicited activation of T cells. Collectively, these data demonstrate the importance of immunological parameters in distinguishing between health phenotypes of older adults. NKR(+) T cells and cytokine upregulation indicate a unique physiologic environment in old age. Correlation of particular NKR(+) T cell subsets and IL-5 with unimpaired performance, and NKR-driven TCR-independent activation of T cells suggest novel immunopathway(s) that could be exploited to improve immunity in old age.

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KLRK1 human, recombinant, expressed in E. coli, ≥90% (SDS-PAGE)