In order to study the fine mechanisms that underlie the impairment of non-MHC-restricted cytolytic activity which occurs during human aging, we examined by multiparametric flow cytometry the binding and lytic activities of human natural killer cells. The flow analysis revealed a striking increase of the CD16+8- subset, together with a significant decrease of CD8bright cells and total T cells (CD3+). Aging had no influence on the CD8dim subset. The total lytic activity expressed by PBL as well as their binding efficiency to K562 targets were moderately but not significantly increased in the elderly. In contrast, the cytotoxicity of the single target-bound natural killer cell (i.e., lytic efficiency) was deeply impaired in aged subjects, suggesting that the NK functional impairment observed in aging is located at postbinding level.
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