The aging brain is characterized by a shift from the homeostatic balance of inflammatory mediators to a proinflammatory state. This increase in neuroinflammation is marked by increased numbers of activated and primed microglia, increased steady-state levels of inflammatory cytokines and decreases in anti-inflammatory molecules. These conditions sensitize the aged brain to produce an exaggerated response to the presence of an immune stimulus in the periphery or following exposure to a stressor. In the brain, proinflammatory cytokines can have profound effects on behavioral and neural processes. As the aged brain is primed to respond to inflammatory stimuli, infection or stress may produce more severe detriments in cognitive function in the aged. Typically after an immune stimulus, aged animals display prolonged sickness behaviors, increased cytokine induction and greater cognitive impairments compared to adults. Additionally, aging can also augment the central response to stressors leading to exaggerated cytokine induction and increased decrements in learning and memory. This alteration in neuroinflammation and resultant sensitization to extrinsic and intrinsic stressors can have considerable effects upon the elderly’s recovery and coping during disease and stress.

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