Telomerase and a strong immunity.
In the year 2025 it is projected that there will be more than 1 billion people over the age of 60 in the world. This is an accomplishment for both the public health sector and for medical advances. But this accomplishment will also present our society many dilemmas. One particular problem will involve the decline of the immune system in this aging population. With the increase incidence of viral infections such as influenza and the high mortality rate among the elderly that succumb to this this and other viral infections, it is apparent that searching for methods to improve our immune system is critical for maintaining our healthy years. One such research article that addresses such questions was recently published on print this November in the Journal of Clinical Immunology (J Clin Immunol (2010) 30:798-805). The research led by Dr. Rita Effros at UCLA, looked into a method of extending the lifespan of CD8 T cells due to their roll in defending our cells from viral infections. Our cells grow old, and when they do, they change their appearance by changing the proteins that they express both on their surface and internally.
Many such changes have been documented but one particular internal change, the lowering of telomerase activity, has been thoroughly tested as one cause of aging. Without telomerase our CD8 T cells grow old and can no longer replicate. This lack of CD8 T cell replication makes us susceptible to viral infections. What this group discovered was that over-expressing another protein (called CD28) on the surface of our T cells delays the onset of aging on the cellular level. The group discovered that not only was this protein increasing telomerase activity but also increased overall proliferative potential (needed to fight infections) and reduced secretion of pro-inflammatory proteins. The bottom line is that this research opens the door for novel therapies that target CD28 in the hopes of increasing the function of our T cells into our old age.