The aging process affects all aspects of the immune system, particularly the T cells. The immune system in older individuals is often characterized by lower T cell numbers, lower naive/memory T cell ratios, and lower T cell diversity. Most measures of inflammation increase with age. Why this happens, and why there is so much person-to-person variability in these changes, is not known. In this issue of the JCI, Sauce and colleagues show that removal of the thymus during infancy results in premature onset of many of these age-associated changes to the immune system (see the related article beginning on page 3070). The effect of thymectomy was particularly notable in those individuals who acquired CMV infection. Data from this study, as well as data from other observational settings, suggest that reduced thymic function and persistent viral infections combine to accelerate a decline in immunologic function.
Ronald E. Gress, Steven G. Deeks