Thymic aging may be associated with covid-19 pathophysiology in the elderly

Weikan Wang, Rachel Thomas, Jiyoung Oh, Dong Ming Su

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) caused the global pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and particularly exhibits severe symptoms and mortality in elderly individuals. Mounting evidence shows that the characteristics of the age-related clinical severity of COVID-19 are attributed to insufficient antiviral immune function and excessive self-damaging immune reaction, involving T cell immunity and associated with pre-existing basal inflammation in the elderly. Age-related changes to T cell immunosenescence is characterized by not only restricted T cell receptor (TCR) repertoire diversity, accumulation of exhausted and/or senescent memory T cells, but also by increased self-reactive T cell-and innate immune cell-induced chronic inflammation, and accumulated and functionally enhanced polyclonal regulatory T (Treg) cells. Many of these changes can be traced back to age-related thymic involution/degeneration. How these changes contribute to differences in COVID-19 disease severity between young and aged patients is an urgent area of investigation. Therefore, we attempt to connect various clues in this field by reviewing and discussing recent research on the role of the thymus and T cells in COVID-19 immunity during aging (a synergistic effect of diminished responses to pathogens and enhanced responses to self) impacting age-related clinical severity of COVID-19. We also address potential combinational strategies to rejuvenate multiple aging-impacted immune system checkpoints by revival of aged thymic function, boosting peripheral T cell responses, and alleviating chronic, basal inflammation to improve the efficiency of anti-SARS-CoV-2 immunity and vaccination in the elderly.

Original languageEnglish
Article number628
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Aged COVID-19 patients
  • Aged thymus
  • Immunopathology
  • Role of T cells
  • Thymic involution


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