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Semin Immunol. 2012 Oct;24(5):373-82. doi: 10.1016/j.smim.2012.04.007. Epub 2012 May 23.

Translational research in immune senescence: assessing the relevance of current models.

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Section on Infectious Diseases, Department of Internal Medicine, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC, USA.


Advancing age is accompanied by profound changes in immune function; some are induced by the loss of critical niches that support development of naïve cells (e.g. thymic involution), others by the intrinsic physiology of long-lived cells attempting to maintain homeostasis, still others by extrinsic effects such as oxidative stress or long-term exposure to antigen due to persistent viral infections. Once compensatory mechanisms can no longer maintain a youthful phenotype the end result is the immune senescent milieu - one characterized by chronic, low grade, systemic inflammation and impaired responses to immune challenge, particularly when encountering new antigens. This state is associated with progression of chronic illnesses like atherosclerosis and dementia, and an increased risk of acute illness, disability and death in older adults. The complex interaction between immune senescence and chronic illness provides an ideal landscape for translational research with the potential to greatly affect human health. However, current animal models and even human investigative strategies for immune senescence have marked limitations, and the reductionist paradigm itself may be poorly suited to meet these challenges. A new paradigm, one that embraces complexity as a core feature of research in older adults is required to address the critical health issues facing the burgeoning senior population, the group that consumes the majority of healthcare resources. In this review, we outline the major advantages and limitations of current models and offer suggestions for how to move forward.

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