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J Leukoc Biol. 1986 Apr;39(4):399-407.

Age differences in phagocytosis by polymorphonuclear leukocytes measured by flow cytometry.


Elderly persons have increased morbidity and mortality due to bacterial infections. Since the polymorphonuclear leukocyte (PMN) is a major defense against bacterial infection, we utilized fluorescent microspheres and flow cytometry to examine phagocytosis by PMNs from 55 young and middle-aged adults (mean age 41.5 yrs) and two groups of elderly subjects: one group of 35 healthy individuals (mean age 74.1 years) living at home, and a second group of 11 residents (mean age 83.1 years) with severe mental and physical disabilities, living in a domiciliary care facility. We determined the percent phagocytic PMNs, the number of microspheres per PMN, and the number of microspheres per 100 PMNs. The mean number of microspheres per phagocytic PMN was similar for all groups. Statistically significant differences were found between the young and middle-aged group and the healthy or ill elderly groups for the percent phagocytic PMNs (75.3% vs 51.5% and 43.8%), and the number of microspheres per 100 phagocytic PMNs (197.3 vs 131.4 and 103.2). There were no significant differences in these parameters between healthy and debilitated elderly subjects. These data document that there is an age-related increase in representation of a population of PMNs which have a defect in phagocytic ability.

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