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Have Scientists Discovered a ‘Longevity Gene?’

People over the age of 110 belong to a special group — they’re known as supercentenarians. Supercentenarians are not only rare, they’re also somewhat fascinating. Studies have shown that people in this age group are relatively immune to illnesses such as infections and even cancer, and have been throughout their life. How is that possible? Scientists were determined to find out.


In a study published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers examined circulating immune cells from a group of supercentenarians and compared them with those from younger participants, 50 to 80 years old. The results showed that the number of T-cells (a type of immune cells) in both age groups were approximately the same, however, the supercentenarians showed an increased number of one subset of T-cells, known as cytotoxic CD4 T.

Usually, T-cells with CD8 markers are cytotoxic, meaning they’re able to kill other cells, and T-cells with CD4 markers are not. However, researchers found that the CD4 T-cells in the supercentenarians were cytotoxic and able to kill other cells, suggesting that the cells had somehow acquired cytotoxic status. In the younger participants, researchers found relatively few cytotoxic CD4 cells, indicating that for the supercentenarians, this was a special trait.

To determine how the CD4 cells became cytotoxic, researchers examined the blood cells of two supercentenarians and found that the cells came from a process of clonal expansion, so many of the cells amounted from one single cell.

Lead study author said, “We were especially interested in studying this group of people, because we consider them to be a good model of healthy aging, and this is important in societies like Japan where aging is proceeding rapidly.”

IMS Deputy Director Piero Carninci, who also worked on the study, explained,” This research shows how single-cell transcription analysis can help us to understand how individuals are more or less susceptible to diseases.”

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