For centuries, discovering the secret to living longer has been the goal for many doctors and scientists. Past longevity research says that our lifestyles are the key factor to living longer. Yet, a new study has found a different, essential part of the equation.
This study reports that centenarians, or people that reach 100, may have immune systems that are extremely effective. They may have a unique makeup of immune cells and expression of genes that are strong defenders against illness or disease. Tanya Karagiannis, the lead author of the study and senior bioinformatician at Tufts Medical Center, stated, “Our data support the hypothesis that centenarians have protective factors that enable (them) to recover from disease and reach extreme old ages.”
It has been well documented that our immune system function worsens with age. Yet, centenarians appear to maintain excellent immune function as they age. In this study, cellular and genetic profiles of seven centenarians were studied and compared to 52 individuals aged 20-89.
Karagiannis’s team found several key differences in how the immune system changes with age in centenarians.
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Centenarians appear to have a unique shift in cell composition that allows them to have a quick immune response to infections. They appear to maintain a balance in their cell composition. Immune imbalance is a characteristic of poor response to infection or other ineffective cells. Further, these cell compositions are associated with limiting inflammaging and having better regulation of DNA and cell damage.
So, why do these changes happen in centenarians and not others? Centenarians may have had greater exposure to infections and were able to develop effective responses to them. Although, it is likely that both genetic and environmental factors play a significant role in these changes.
The senior author and associate professor of medicine at Boston University, George Murphy, stated, “Centenarians, and their exceptional longevity, provide a ‘blueprint’ for how we might live more productive, healthful lives.”
These findings provide a foundation for future research to study the immune resilience mechanisms in centenarians as targets for healthy aging.
- Karagiannis TT, Dowrey TW, Villacorta-Martin C, Montano M, Reed E, Belkina AC, Andersen SL, Perls TT, Monti S, Murphy GJ, Sebastiani P. Multi-modal profiling of peripheral blood cells across the human lifespan reveals distinct immune cell signatures of aging and longevity. EBioMedicine. 2023 Mar 24:104514. doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2023.104514 Epub ahead of print. PMID: 37005201.
- Rodriguez A. A ‘blueprint’ for longevity: New study has an answer for why some people live to be over 100. USA Today. 2023 Apr 3. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2023/04/03/whats-key-living-longer-new-study-suggests-hidden-secret/11576592002/