The Role of Stress Factors during Aging of the Immune System

Authors


Address for correspondence: Dr. Moisés E. Bauer, Instituto de Pesquisas Biomédicas, Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS), Av. Ipiranga 6690, 2° andar, P.O. Box 1429, Porto Alegre, RS 90.610-000, Brazil. mebauer@pucrs.br

Abstract

This manuscript reviews current evidence suggesting that aging of the immune system (immunosenescence) may be closely related to chronic stress and stress factors. Healthy aging has been associated with emotional distress in parallel to increased cortisol to dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) ratio. The impaired DHEA secretion together with the increase of cortisol results in an enhanced exposure of lymphoid cells to deleterious glucocorticoid actions. The lack of appropriated growth hormone signaling during immunosenescence is also discussed. It follows that altered neuroendocrine functions could be underlying several immunosenescence features. Indeed, changes in both innate and adaptive immune responses during aging are also similarly reported during chronic glucocorticoid exposure. In addition, chronically stressed elderly subjects may be particularly at risk of stress-related pathology because of further alterations in both neuroendocrine and immune systems. The accelerated senescent features induced by chronic stress include higher oxidative stress, reduced telomere length, chronic glucocorticoid exposure, thymic involution, changes in cellular trafficking, reduced cell-mediated immunity, steroid resistance, and chronic low-grade inflammation. These senescent features are related to increased morbidity and mortality among chronically stressed elderly people. Overall, these data suggest that chronic stress leads to premature aging of key allostatic systems involved in the adaptation of the organisms to environmental changes. Stress management and psychosocial support may thus promote a better quality of life for elderly people and at the same time reduce hospitalization costs.

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