Immune Health Fades as You Age
The thymus is a small but essential organ overlying your breastplate where naive immune cells from the bone marrow, aka the "T Cells" (for thymus), become mature. It is a "West Point" for T-cells which will be selected for their ability to learn the host's unique password, the MHC-1 (or Major Histocompatibility Complex 1,) that almost every cell in your body possesses. In the diagram below, this "positive selection" takes place in the cortex. MHC-1 will become important later when we discuss fighting cancer and viruses.
Before they graduate, the majority of T-cells are killed off by apoptosis because they react too strongly to the MHC 1 and might escape to cause autoimmune diseases. This "negative selection" takes place in the medulla of the thymus.
Until the 1960's, scientists considered the thymus to be a useless organ, a graveyard for immune cells. This was probably because the organ was withered by the time their older patients went to autopsy.
On the other hand, the ancient Greek physician, Galen (AD 129-200) considered the thymus the "seat of the soul" and "that mystical organ." We now realize that the thymus is literally and figuratively the
center of the adaptive immune system. Galen noted that the relative size was greatest as an infant and that after puberty, the organ shrinks. But the "thymic West Point" probably withers because of lack of enrollment from eligible young T-cells, not from self-destruction.
AIDS is a Form of Aging
Advanced HIV infection, aka AIDS, results in a premature burn-out of the host's immune system. That is why patients monitor their "T-cell count" as a gauge of how much immune function remains. CD28 (+) cells are "naive T-cells" and are thus able to adapt to new immune threats. With AIDS, the immune system loses its capacity to respond to new threats as the proportion of CD 28(-) (pronounced 'cee-dee-negative') T-cells increases. CD28 (-) T-cells, stretching the military metaphor, are 4F, or not suitable for military service.
Previously an extremely rare cancer occurring in elderly Mediterranean men, Kaposi's sarcoma was one of the first phenomena of AIDS before scientists had identified HIV in the early 1980's. So what is the relationship between cancer, viruses and immune deficiency?
You body is constantly fighting new cancers and latent viruses like an army waging war on many fronts. When all the T cells (West Point officers) and the Natural Killers (enlisted men) are used up, the war is lost.
Definition of AIDS-related cancers: Certain cancer types that are more likely to occur in people who are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The most common types are Kaposi sarcoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Other AIDS-related cancers include Hodgkin disease and cancers of the lung, mouth, cervix, and digestive system.-(excerpted from the NIH's National Cancer Institute website)
Aging is an AIDS, and vice versa
Normal human aging results in an acquired immune deficiency syndrome of its own. As with all stem cells, blood producing stem cells in the bone marrow undergo
1. telomere shortening (replicative senescence),
2. DNA transcription errors (bad photocopying) and
3. recombinations (DNA ends sticking to where they're not supposed to)
Recall from our theory of aging, those marrow stem cells give rise white blood cells that can't be any "younger" (i.e. longer telomeres) or "healthier" (i.e. error-free DNA code) than they are. Eventually, the proportion of fresh and naive CD 28 (+) cells decreases and the adaptive immune system weakens.
Aging, just like AIDS, is associated with higher rates of cancer. Keeping the telomeres of your immune stem cells long with TA might allow your armies to keep resisting cancers, in addition to the benefit of making DNA recombinations less likely in the first place (like the leukemia caused by the Philadelphia Chromosome.)
Cancer and viruses are similar in that they both "pirate" normal cells. Compromised cells try to signal the need to be killed, preferably by the "shrinky-dink" method of apoptosis, so the viral particles don't burst out ilke a piñata full of candy.
In the top right of this cartoon, the virally infected cell uses the MHC-1 as a flagpole to signal its need to be killed to the Cytolytic (aka killer or CD8) T cells
In the the bottom right, the virus tries to hide by removing the flagpoles. Natural Killers are activated by an alternative signal and would usually be inhibited by MHC-1 on the surface.
The Herpesviridae family of viruses are a lifelong challege for most of us. They cannot be cured, only controlled. Much of our T-cell resources are used and used up to keep them in check. If your T-cells are old or dysfunctional, or if you're system is supressed by stress, chemotherapy, or overwhelming infection - the following conditions appear:
Herpes Simplex 1&2: cold sores and genital herpes
Varicella Zoster Virus: Shingles from reactivated chicken pox
Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus: Kaposi's sarcoma (only in AIDS and the elderly)
Epstein-Barr and Cytomegalovirus: Chronic Fatigue Syndromes
There is evidence that immune senescence might be closely related to our lifelong efforts to control these DNA viruses lurking in our own DNA.
As a Patton Protocol client, you will receive a measurement of your exposure to CMV, one of the likely suspects that are causing aging of your immune system. TA-65 may help control such infections by lowering the burned-out CD 28neg cells.