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Exp Gerontol. 2007 Aug;42(8):719-32. Epub 2007 Feb 6.

Aging is associated with a rapid decline in frequency, alterations in subset composition, and enhanced Th2 response in CD1d-restricted NKT cells from human peripheral blood.

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  • 1Department of Internal Medicine, The Glennan Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology, Eastern Virginia Medical School, 2126 Lewis Hall, Norfolk, VA 23507, USA.


NKT cells are important for initiating and regulating immune responses. We investigated the age-related changes in the CD1d-restricted semi-invariant NKT (iNKT) cells in peripheral blood of healthy adults. The iNKT cell frequency was 2.5- to 10.7-fold less in healthy elderly subjects (61 years and over) compared to the healthy young subjects (20-40 years, p<0.001). This age-related decline in iNKT cells was observed both in freshly isolated PBMC and in cultures where iNKT cells were enriched by alpha-GalCer stimulation using either the Valpha24/Vbeta11 TCR antibody pair or the CD1d-tetramer as the iNKT cell marker. The decline in frequency was associated with an alteration in the iNKT cell subset compositions: an increase in the proportion of CD4+ subset and a decrease in the proportion of CD4/CD8 double-negative (DN) subset. The age-related decline in iNKT cells and changes in subset composition were independent from the age-related changes of conventional T cells/T cell subsets. Additionally, there was a Th1 to Th2 shift in the cytokine response profile from iNKT cells with aging. We conclude that aging is associated with a significant decline in iNKT cell frequency in peripheral blood, accompanied with alterations in subset composition and cytokine response profile.

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