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Ageing Res Rev. 2011 Jul;10(3):354-61. doi: 10.1016/j.arr.2010.09.006. Epub 2010 Oct 12.

Expansions of NK-like αβT cells with chronologic aging: novel lymphocyte effectors that compensate for functional deficits of conventional NK cells and T cells.

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Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15224, USA.


As the repertoire of αβT cell receptors (TCR) contracts with advancing age, there is an associated age-dependent accumulation of oligoclonal T cells expressing of a variety of receptors (NKR), normally expressed on natural killer (NK) cells. Evidences for differential regulation of expression of particular NKRs between T cells and NK cells suggest that NKR expression on T cells is physiologically programmed rather than a random event of the aging process. Experimental studies show NKRs on aged αβT cells may function either as independent receptors, and/or as costimulatory receptors to the TCR. Considering the reported deficits of conventional αβTCR-driven activation and also functional deficits of classical NK cells, NKR(+) αβT cells likely represent novel immune effectors that are capable of combining innate and adaptive functions. Inasmuch as immunity is a determinant of individual fitness, the type and density of NKRs could be important contributing factors to the wide heterogeneity of health characteristics of older adults, ranging from institutionalized frail elders who are unable to mount immune responses to functionally independent community-dwelling elders who exhibit protective immunity. Understanding the biology of NKR(+) αβT cells could lead to new avenues for age-specific intervention to improve protective immunity.

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