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Mech Ageing Dev. 2003 Apr;124(4):477-85.

An age-related increase in the number of CD8+ T cells carrying receptors for an immunodominant Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) epitope is counteracted by a decreased frequency of their antigen-specific responsiveness.

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  • 1Tuebingen Ageing and Tumour Immunology Group, Center for Medical Research, ZMF, Waldhoernlestr. 22, 72072, Tuebingen, Germany.


The aim of this study was to provide a basis for investigating the effects of one very common environmental factor, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), on age-related changes in the immune system. To this end, the frequency of CD8(+) T cells carrying receptors for an immunodominant EBV lytic epitope was assessed by direct staining with HLA-peptide tetrameric complexes in 19 very old (>87 years) and 12 young (20-40 years) EBV carriers. The frequency of EBV-tetramer-positive cells within the CD8(+) subset was significantly greater in the old compared to the young group (P=0.001). However, the frequency of EBV antigen-specific IFN-gamma producing T cells, as determined by ELISPOT, was significantly lower in the old (P=0.001). Therefore, the absolute number of functional EBV-specific T cells in the elderly and the young was probably similar. These data suggest CD8 clonal expansions in the elderly, resulting in an accumulation of dysfunctional EBV-specific cells which possibly fill the 'immunological space' and could lead to a shrinking of the T cell repertoire for other novel antigens. This may help to explain the increased incidence and case-fatality caused by viruses and intracellular pathogens in the elderly.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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