© 2015 New York Academy of Sciences.
Immunosenescence, characterized by complex modifications of immunity with age, could be related to frailty syndrome in elderly individuals, leading to an inadequate response to minimal aggression. Functional decline (i.e., the loss of ability to perform activities of daily living) is related to frailty and decreased physiological reserves and is a frequent outcome of hospitalization in older patients. Links between immunosenescence and frailty have been explored and 20 immunological parameters, including insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), thymopoeisis, and telomere length, were shown to be affected in elderly patients with functional decline. A strong relationship between IGF-1 and thymic ouput was evidenced. IGF-1, a mediator of growth hormone (GH), was subsequently shown to induce interleukin-7 secretion in cultured primary human thymic epithelial cells. We are exploring the stress hypothesis in which an acute stressor is used as the discriminator of frailty susceptibility. GH can counteract the deleterious immunosuppressive effects of stress-induced steroids. Under nonstress conditions, the immunosenescent system preserves physiological responses, while under stress conditions, the combination of immunosenescence and a defect in the somatotrope axis might lead to functional decline.