Enhancing the body’s antiviral immune response to fight aging

Harnessing the immune response to this protein could have multiple health benefits during aging.


According to recent research, promoting the body’s natural antiviral immune response could potentially lead to the elimination of aging cells. Studies have shown that our immune system weakens as we age and becomes less effective at fighting off infections and diseases. This decline in immune function also affects our ability to clear out damaged and senescent cells, which accumulate in tissues and contribute to aging and age-related diseases.

Over time, the body can gather senescent cells that cease dividing but remain alive. These cells can foster long-term inflammation that exacerbates conditions such as cancer and degenerative illnesses.

Eliminating senescent cells from aging tissues in mice can lead to an increased healthy lifespan. A team at Massachusetts General Hospital has found that the immune response to human cytomegalovirus can detect and eliminate senescent cells in the skin. Killer CD4+ T cells are responsible for keeping senescent cells from increasing, and they target aging skin cells that express a protein produced by human cytomegalovirus.

These findings suggest a new therapeutic approach to eliminate aging cells by boosting the antiviral immune response, which could help treat diseases like cancer, fibrosis, and degenerative diseases.

“Our study has revealed that immune responses to human cytomegalovirus contribute to maintaining the balance of aging organs,” says senior author Shawn Demehri, MD, Ph.D., director of the High-Risk Skin Cancer Clinic at MGH and an associate professor of Dermatology at Harvard Medical School. “Most of us are infected with human cytomegalovirus, and our immune system has evolved to eliminate cells, including senescent cells, that upregulate the expression of cytomegalovirus antigens.” 

“Our research enables a new therapeutic approach to eliminate aging cells by boosting the antiviral immune response,” says Demehri. “We are interested in utilizing the immune response to cytomegalovirus as a therapy to eliminate senescent cells in diseases like cancer, fibrosis, and degenerative diseases.”

Overall, the potential benefits of boosting the body’s antiviral immune response are significant, and ongoing research in this area may lead to new strategies for promoting healthy aging and preventing age-related diseases.

Journal Reference:

  1. Tatsuya Hasegawa, Tomonori Oka et al. Cytotoxic CD4+ T cells eliminate senescent cells by targeting cytomegalovirus antigen. Cell. DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2023.02.033


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