Concentrations of immunoglobulins (Ig) and levels of isotype specific antibodies to three dietary antigens in serum, pure parotid saliva, and in intestinal secretions obtained by whole gut lavage from groups of healthy elderly subjects (aged greater than 70 years) and of younger adult controls (aged 25-50 years) were measured. In addition, counts of lamina propria and intra-epithelial lymphoid cells were performed in histologically normal jejunal biopsy specimens from elderly and younger subjects. Elderly subjects had significantly higher concentrations of serum and salivary IgA and of salivary IgM (both, p less than 0.01), and of salivary IgA antibodies than did the younger subjects, but the amount of immunoglobulin and antibody in whole gut lavage fluid was similar in the two age groups. Jejunal biopsy specimen cell counts showed higher IgA plasma cell counts and lower intraepithelial lymphocyte counts in the elderly group (p less than 0.01), with similar counts of IgM and IgG plasma cells, eosinophils, and mast cells in the two groups. There is evidence of significant effects of old age on the mucosal immune system.
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