Aging and Neurodegenerative Disease: Is the Adaptive Immune System a Friend or Foe?

Katie Mayne, Jessica A. White, Christopher E. McMurran, Francisco J. Rivera, Alerie G. de la Fuente*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
51 Downloads (Pure)


Neurodegenerative diseases of the central nervous system (CNS) are characterized by progressive neuronal death and neurological dysfunction, leading to increased disability and a loss of cognitive or motor functions. Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis have neurodegeneration as a primary feature. However, in other CNS diseases such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, traumatic brain injury, and spinal cord injury, neurodegeneration follows another insult, such as demyelination or ischaemia. Although there are different primary causes to these diseases, they all share a hallmark of neuroinflammation. Neuroinflammation can occur through the activation of resident immune cells such as microglia, cells of the innate and adaptive peripheral immune system, meningeal inflammation and autoantibodies directed toward components of the CNS. Despite chronic inflammation being pathogenic in these diseases, local inflammation after insult can also promote endogenous regenerative processes in the CNS, which are key to slowing disease progression. The normal aging process in the healthy brain is associated with a decline in physiological function, a steady increase in levels of neuroinflammation, brain shrinkage, and memory deficits. Likewise, aging is also a key contributor to the progression and exacerbation of neurodegenerative diseases. As there are associated co-morbidities within an aging population, pinpointing the precise relationship between aging and neurodegenerative disease progression can be a challenge. The CNS has historically been considered an isolated, “immune privileged” site, however, there is mounting evidence that adaptive immune cells are present in the CNS of both healthy individuals and diseased patients. Adaptive immune cells have also been implicated in both the degeneration and regeneration of the CNS. In this review, we will discuss the key role of the adaptive immune system in CNS degeneration and regeneration, with a focus on how aging influences this crosstalk.

Original languageEnglish
Article number572090
JournalFrontiers in aging neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 23 Sep 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding. This work was supported by the Department for the Economy (to KM and JAW), Agencia Nacional de Investigaci?n y Desarrollo (ANID) de Chile FONDECYT Program Regular Grant No. 1201706 (to FJR), and ECTRIMS postdoctoral fellowship (to AdlF) and Wellcome Institutional Strategic Fund (ISSF) fellowship from QUB (to AdlF).

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2020 Mayne, White, McMurran, Rivera and de la Fuente.

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • adaptive immune system
  • aging
  • degeneration
  • neurodegenerative diseases
  • regeneration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ageing
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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