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Study Shows How To Rejuvenate Aging Immune Cells

Update Date: Aug 25, 2014 10:52 AM EDT

Researchers have demonstrated in a new study how an interplay between nutrition, metabolism and immunity is involved in the process of aging. 

The findings of the studies could help enhance our immunity to disease through dietary intervention and also make existing immune system therapies more effective.

As we grow older, our immune systems become weaker. Older people suffer from increased incidence and severity of both infections and cancer. Further, with growing age, vaccination becomes less efficient. 

A previous study had found that aging in immune system cells known as 'T lymphocytes' was controlled by a molecule called 'p38 MAPK' that acts as a brake to prevent certain cellular functions. 

The new study shows that p38 MAPK is activated by low nutrient levels, coupled with signals associated with age or senescenece, within the cell. 

The study further suggested that the function of old T lymphocytes could be reconstituted by blocking one of several molecules involved in the process. 

 "Our life expectancy at birth is now twice as long as it was 150 years ago and our lifespans are on the increase. Healthcare costs associated with ageing are immense and there will be an increasing number of older people in our population who will have a lower quality of life due in part to immune decline. It is therefore essential to understand reasons why immunity decreases and whether it is possible to counteract some of these changes," said Professor Arne Akbar in the press release. 

"An important question is whether this knowledge can be used to enhance immunity during aging. Many drug companies have already developed p38 inhibitors in attempts to treat inflammatory diseases. One new possibility for their use is that these compounds could be used to enhance immunity in older subjects. Another possibility is that dietary instead of drug intervention could be used to enhance immunity since metabolism and senescence are two sides of the same coin."

The study has been published in the journal Nature Immunology. 

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