Environmental Influences on the Immune System: The Aging Immune System

  • Julia N. Mälzer
  • Axel R. Schulz
  • Andreas Thiel


The term “immunosenescence” defines gradual alterations of human immune functions associated with advancing age. Decreasing immunocompetence results in a higher susceptibility to infections and rising incidences of certain malignant and autoimmune diseases in elderly humans. As a major signature for immunosenescence, decreased vaccination efficiencies have been reported regardless of whether vaccinations were of primary or secondary nature. “Inflamm-aging”, referring to the development of chronic systemic low-level inflammation, is further a key aspect of immunosenescence. Since an inflammatory aspect has been described for the pathogenesis of many major age-related diseases such as atherosclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease, the clinical impact of immunosenescence may extend far beyond diseases where a role of immunological dysfunction has been proven. A distorted immunocompetence in the elderly may result from intrinsic cellular changes as well as from external influences affecting the immunological network at all layers. So far, research efforts have found a broad variety of complex age-related alterations regarding the phenotype and the functionality of various types of immune cells, which can be associated with compromised immune functions. Chronic viral infections such as CMV have been confirmed to promote immunosenescence changes by driving exhaustive immune responses. It seems that the regenerative potential of the aged immune system is altered due to changes in the bone marrow microenvironment and a distorted functionality of hematopoietic stem cells. One of the most drastic age-associated changes for the immune system is the involution of the thymus resulting in decreased production of new T cells starting already during early adult age. Interlinking and appreciating these individual signatures is only feasible in conducting bioinformatics and system’s biology approaches. An enhanced understanding of immunosenescence alongside with the development of diagnostic and therapeutic tools to identify and treat age-related impairments in immune functions will be of great scientific and socioeconomic interest, considering the speed and magnitude of population aging worldwide.


West Nile Virus Herpes Zoster Yellow Fever Virus Chronic Viral Infection Thymic Involution 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Wien 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julia N. Mälzer
    • 1
  • Axel R. Schulz
    • 1
  • Andreas Thiel
    • 2
  1. 1.Regenerative Immunology and AgingBerlin-Brandenburg Center for Regenerative Therapies (BCRT), Charité Universitätsmedizin BerlinBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Regenerative Immunology and AgingBerlin-Brandenburg Center for Regenerative Therapies (BCRT), Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Campus Virchow-KlinikumBerlinGermany

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