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Frailty is a multidimensional geriatric syndrome characterised by a state of increased vulnerability to disease. Its causes are unclear, limiting opportunities for intervention. Age-related changes to the immune-endocrine axis are implicated. This study investigated the associations between the immune-endocrine axis and frailty as well as mortality 10 years later among men and women aged 65 to 70 years. We studied 254 participants of the Hertfordshire Ageing Study at baseline and 10-year follow-up. At baseline, they completed a health questionnaire and had collection of blood samples for immune-endocrine analysis. At follow-up, Fried frailty was characterised and mortality ascertained. Higher baseline levels of differential white cell counts (WCC), lower levels of dehydroepiandosterone sulphate (DHEAS) and higher cortisol:DHEAS ratio were all significantly associated with increased odds of frailty at 10-year follow-up. Baseline WCC and cortisol:DHEAS clearly discriminated between individuals who went on to be frail at follow-up. We present the first evidence that immune-endocrine biomarkers are associated with the likelihood of frailty as well as mortality over a 10-year period. This augments our understanding of the aetiology of frailty, and suggests that a screening programme at ages 60-70 years could help to identify individuals who are at high risk of becoming frail and who would benefit from early, targeted intervention, for example with DHEA supplementation or anti-inflammatory strategies. Progress towards the prevention of frailty would bring major health and socio-economic benefits at the individual and the population level.

Original publication




Journal article


Age (dordr)

Publication Date





963 - 971


Aged, Aging, Biomarkers, Endocrine System, Female, Follow-Up Studies, Frail Elderly, Geriatric Assessment, Health Status, Humans, Immune System, Longevity, Male, Retrospective Studies, Surveys and Questionnaires, Survival Rate, Time Factors, United Kingdom