The contribution of the immune system to healthy aging and longevity is still an open question. For this reason, several immune parameters (T, B, and natural killer [NK] cell subsets; non-major histocompatibility complex [MHC]-restricted cytotoxic activities, ie, natural and redirected killing [RDK] activities) were studied in a total of 138 healthy subjects of different ages, from 4 to 106 years of age, including 26 centenarians. The major age-related modifications were the following: (1) a decrease in the absolute number of T lymphocytes (CD3+), involving both CD4+ and CD8+ subsets, accompanied by a marked concomitant increase in the number of activated T cells (CD3+, HLA- DR+); (2) a marked decrease in the number of B lymphocytes (CD19+); and (3) an increase in the number of cells with markers of NK activity and of T lymphocytes able to mediate non-MHC-restricted cytotoxicity. These modifications linearly progressed with age and centenarians followed the trend, suggesting that their immune system did not escape the aging process. However, other immunohematologic parameters (number of red blood cells, platelets, and leukocytes) and important immune functions, such as cytotoxic activities (NK and RDK cell activities), were well preserved throughout life until the last decades of life. Unexpectedly, in apparently healthy middle-aged subjects, a decrease of cytotoxic activities was observed in comparison with those of both young controls and centenarians. In conclusions, our data suggest that in centenarians some immune responses are kept at a high level of efficiency, likely contributing to their successful aging. However, this selected group of people does not escape the aging process, as shown by the progressive derangement of a variety of immune parameters.

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