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Exp Gerontol. 2001 Dec;37(1):127-36.

Decreased natural killer cell activity is associated with atherosclerosis in elderly humans.

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Department of Infectious Diseases M7641, H:S, Rigshospitalet, University of Copenhagen, Blegdamsvej 9, 2100 N, Copenhagen, Denmark.


Well-preserved natural killer cell (NK) activity has been associated with successful aging. The aim of the present study was to perform detailed analyses of NK cell function and to investigate the clinical significance of the NK cell number and function in relationship to health in a large cohort of elderly humans. It was tested if the potential of natural cytotoxicity in the blood (evaluated as an index including cytotoxicity per NK cell and the number of circulating NK cells) was preserved in 174 81-year-old humans versus 91 young controls and if NK cell mediated immunity was associated with age-related inflammatory diseases such as atherosclerosis. Elderly people had decreased cytotoxicity per NK cell in short-term but not in long-term assays. Ca(2+) independent cytotoxicity was unaltered, and NK cells maintained their cytotoxic responses to interleukin-2 and interferon-alpha signals. The decreased cytotoxicity per NK cell was not completely counteracted by increased circulating numbers of NK cells in the blood. Elderly people with severe medical disorders had low numbers of circulating NK cells. Furthermore, elderly people with atherosclerosis had low cytotoxicity per NK cell and a high number of circulating neutrophils.

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