The Longevity Secret of Supercentenarians Is in Their Immune Systems

Supercentenarians have a particular feature, where their CD4 cells, usually non-cytotoxic, acquire a cytotoxic state during their lifetime.


Could cytotoxic T-cells, an immune cell type, be the key to a long life span? A team of Japanese scientists from the Riken Center and Keio University identified, through the analysis of cell RNA, particularly high levels of cytotoxic CD4 T cells in a group of Supercentenarians. These new data, documented in the Annals of the American Academy of Sciences, suggest that these Supercentenarians have a particular feature, a development of CD4 cells, usually non-cytotoxic, but that in this group of people acquire this cytotoxic status throughout their lives which offers remarkable protection against infections and cancers.

Despite the aging of the overall population, Supercentenarians are extremely rare. In Japan, where the study was conducted, by 2015 more than 61,000 people were over 100 years old, but only 146 were over 110 years old. Previous studies have shown that these people were highly immune to diseases and infections throughout their lives.

But what makes the power of the Supercentenarians immune system strong?

Japanese scientists have tried to understand and investigate the immune cells that circulate in a group Supercentenarians and compared them to those in younger individuals. The analysis used 41,208 cells collected from 7 Supercentenarians and 19,994 cells collected from 3 younger healthy individuals between 50 and 80 years old. The analysis noticed that:

If the number of B cells (or B lymphocytes) is lower in the Supercentenarians, the number of T cells is about the same as in the younger controls.

A subgroup of T cells (or T lymphocytes) appears to have increased in Supercentenarians: the number of cytotoxic cells which are cells that can kill other cells sometimes represent up to 80% of the T cells, compared to only 10 to 20% in the younger subjects.

While T cells with “CD8” receptor are cytotoxic, T cells with CD4 receptor are not, it seems that in Supercentenarians, CD4 T cells have acquired a cytotoxic status. However, this abundance of cytotoxic CD4 T cells is not found in younger people, so it is not a sign of youth.

A particular feature of Supercentenarians: these special cells, CD4 T cytotoxic cells are the result of a clonal expansion process, which means that many of these cells descend from a single ancestral cell. Therefore, it is also a very specific process that leads to this particular configuration of the Supercentenarians immune system. An exciting model such as these individuals provides research teams with a valuable and extreme model of healthy aging.

In conclusion, researchers suggest that this type of cell, relatively unusual in most individuals – even younger ones- allows Supercentenarians to more effectively combat tumors including already established tumors. They could also play an important role in immunological surveillance, which would strengthen this protection against infections, cancer or other chronic diseases.

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