Immune Cells Are Associated with Mortality: the Health and Retirement Study



Age-related immunosenescence is characterized by changes in immune cell subsets and is associated with mortality. However, since immunosenescence is associated with other concurrent age-related changes such as inflammation and multi-organ dysfunction, it is unclear whether the association between age-related immunosenescence and mortality is independent of other concurrent age-related changes. To address these limitations, we evaluated the independent association between immune cell subsets and mortality after adjustment for age-related inflammation and biologic age.


Data for this study was obtained from the 2016 interview of the Health and Retirement Study (N=6802). Cox proportional hazards regression models were used to estimate the association between 25 immune cell subsets (11 T-cell subsets, 4 B-cell subsets, 3 monocyte subsets, 3 natural killer cell subsets, 3 dendritic cell subsets, and neutrophils) and 4-year mortality adjusting for covariates such as the Klemera-Doubal algorithm biological age, chronological age, gender, race/ethnicity, BMI, smoking status, comorbidity index, CMV seropositivity, and inflammatory latent variable comprising C-reactive protein, and 4 cytokines (interleukin-10, interleukin-1 receptor antagonist, interleukin-6, and soluble tumor necrosis factor).


Four hundred and seventy-six participants died during the study period with an overall median follow up time of 2.5 years. After controlling for covariates and adjustment for sample-weights, total T cells [HR: 0.86, p=0.004], NK CD56LO cells [HR: 0.88, p=0.005], and neutrophils [HR: 1.22, p=0.004] were significantly associated with mortality.


These findings support the idea that an aging immune system is associated with short-term mortality independent of age-related inflammation or other age-related measures of physiological dysfunction. If replicated in other external cohorts, these findings could identify novel targets for both monitoring and intervention to reduce the age-related mortality.

The full study can be viewed at Frontiers in Immunology

Seshadri, G., Vivek, S., Prizment, A., Crimmins, E. M., Klopack, E. T., Faul, J., … & Thyagarajan, B. (2023). Immune cells are associated with mortality: the Health and Retirement Study. Frontiers in Immunology14.

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