As the world’s population of older adults increases, understanding disparities in age-related health is essential. Age-related changes in the immune system play a critical role in age-related morbidity and mortality. This study assesses associations between social stress and immunophenotypes as immune age phenotype markers for the first time in a national sample of older US adults. This study helps clarify mechanisms involved in accelerated development of the immune age phenotype, including socioeconomic and lifestyle factors and cytomegalovirus infection and reactivation. This study also identifies important points of intervention that may be useful in addressing inequalities in aging.Abstract
Exposure to stress is a risk factor for poor health and accelerated aging. Immune aging, including declines in naïve and increases in terminally differentiated T cells, plays a role in immune health and tissue specific aging, and may contribute to elevated risk for poor health among those who experience high psychosocial stress. Past data have been limited in estimating the contribution of life stress to the development of accelerated immune aging and investigating mediators such as lifestyle and cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection. This study utilizes a national sample of 5,744 US adults over age 50 to assess the relationship of social stress (viz., everyday discrimination, stressful life events, lifetime discrimination, life trauma, and chronic stress) with flow cytometric estimates of immune aging, including naïve and terminally differentiated T cell percentages and the ratio of CD4+ to CD8+ cells. Experiencing life trauma and chronic stress was related to a lower percentage of CD4+ naïve cells. Discrimination and chronic stress were each associated with a greater percentage of terminally differentiated CD4+ cells. Stressful life events, high lifetime discrimination, and life trauma were related to a lower percentage of CD8+ naïve cells. Stressful life events, high lifetime discrimination, and chronic stress were associated with a higher percentage of terminally differentiated CD8+ cells. High lifetime discrimination and chronic stress were related to a lower CD4+:CD8+ ratio. Lifestyle factors and CMV seropositivity partially reduced these effects. Results identify psychosocial stress as a contributor to accelerating immune aging by decreasing naïve and increasing terminally differentiated T cells.