BACKGROUND:The immune system plays a major role in the pathogenesis of age-related dementia, including Alzheimer's disease (AD). An insight into age-associated changes in the immune response to amyloid-beta (Aβ) in individuals without AD may be beneficial in identifying mechanisms preventing accumulation of Aβ. METHODS:We examined the response of human monocyte-derived dendritic cells (DCs), T cells, and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from healthy aged and young subjects to Aβ peptide 1-42, Aβ fibrils, and recombinant, nonaggregated tau-4 protein with a view to understand the role of peripheral immunity in AD. RESULTS:Our studies revealed that DCs from healthy aged subjects display weak reactivity towards the Aβ peptide and no reactivity towards Aβ fibrils and tau compared with their young counterparts. An analysis of old and young PBMCs revealed that there is no significant T-cell memory against Aβ peptide, fibrils, or tau. Remarkably, the plasma levels of IgM antibodies specific to Aβ peptide 1-42 were significantly increased in aged subjects compared with young subjects, while IgG levels were comparable. Aβ peptide-specific IgM and IgG levels were also determined in the plasma of AD subjects compared with age-matched controls to demonstrate that the immune response against Aβ is stronger in AD patients. A decline in Aβ peptide-specific IgM antibodies was observed in AD patients compared with age-matched controls. In contrast, the levels of IgG as well as interleukin-21, the major cytokine involved in class switching, were increased in AD and patients with mild cognitive impairment, indicating a strong immune response against Aβ. CONCLUSIONS:Collectively, low immunogenicity of Aβ in healthy controls may prevent inflammation while the generation of specific IgM antibodies may help in the clearance of Aβ in healthy subjects.