Immunogenetics of longevity. Is major histocompatibility complex polymorphism relevant to the control of human longevity? A review of literature data

Calogero Caruso, Giuseppina Candore, Giuseppina Colonna Romano, Domenico Lio, Massimiliano Bonafè, Silvana Valensin, Claudio Franceschi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Literature data suggest that human longevity may be directly correlated with optimal functioning of the immune system. Therefore, it is likely that one of the genetic determinants of longevity resides in those polymorphisms for the immune system genes that regulate immune responses. Accordingly, studies performed on mice have suggested that the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC), known to control a variety of immune functions, is associated with the life span of the strains. In the last 25 years, a fair number of cross-sectional studies that searched for the role of HLA (the human MHC) genes on human longevity by comparing HLA antigen frequencies between groups of young and elderly persons have been published, but conflicting findings have been obtained. In fact, the same HLA antigens are increased in some studies, decreased in others and unchanged in others. On the whole, that could lead us to hypothesize that the observed age-related differences in the frequency of HLA antigens are due to bias. In our opinion, this hypothesis is real for most studies owing to major methodological problems. However, some studies that do not meet these biases have shown an association between longevity and some HLA-DR alleles or HLA-B8,DR3 haplotype, known to be involved in the antigen non-specific control of immune response. Thus, HLA studies in man may be interpreted to support suggestions derived from the studies on congenic mice on MHC effects on longevity. However, in mice the association may be by way of susceptibility to lymphomas whereas, in human beings, the effect on longevity is likely, via infectious disease susceptibility. Longevity is associated with positive or negative selection of alleles (or haplotypes) that respectively confer resistance or susceptibility to disease(s), via peptide presentation or via antigen non-specific control of the immune response.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)445-462
Number of pages18
JournalMechanisms of Ageing and Development
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Apr 30 2001


  • Centenarians
  • HLA
  • HLA-B8,DR3
  • Longevity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ageing
  • Biochemistry
  • Developmental Biology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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