The effect of sex on immune cells in healthy aging: Elderly women have more robust natural killer lymphocytes than do elderly men

Ahmad Al-Attar, Steven R. Presnell, Charlotte A. Peterson, D. Travis Thomas, Charles T. Lutz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Immune gender differences have been reported, but are little studied in elderly humans. We compared monocyte and lymphocyte subsets, along with soluble immune mediators in healthy men and women over the age of 70. We also measured natural killer (NK) lymphocyte cytotoxic granule exocytosis, chemokine synthesis, and cytokine synthesis in response to a variety of stimuli. Elderly women had significantly more circulating B cells than men, whereas men had more CD4 central memory T cells and higher monocyte levels. Plasma adiponectin levels were higher in women, plasma retinol-binding protein 4 levels were higher in men, but there were no significant gender differences in C-reactive protein, IL-15, or sphingosine-1-phosphate. Women had a higher ratio of immature CD56bright NK cells to mature CD56dim NK cells, indicating a gender difference in NK cell maturation in the elderly. Comparing sexes, female mature NK cells had more vigorous cytotoxic granule responses to K562 leukemia cells and IFN-γ responses to NKp46 crosslinking. Moreover, female NK cells were more likely to produce MIP-1β in response to a variety of stimuli. These data show that gender influences NK cell activity in elderly humans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-33
Number of pages9
JournalMechanisms of Ageing and Development
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Jody Clasey, Doug Long, Kim Holt, Andrew J. Morris, Maja Redzic, Yuri M. Klyachkin, and CRO nurses for help with study subjects and data analysis. We thank Suzanne Segerstrom and Philip Westgate for statistical advice. This work was supported by NIH grant, AG040542 , and by University of Kentucky Center for Clinical and Translational Science Analytics Lab and CTSA funding UL1TR000117 .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Ireland Ltd.


  • Aging
  • Chemokine synthesis
  • Immune cytotoxicity
  • Natural killer cells
  • Sex factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Developmental Biology


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