Influence of aging on T follicular helper (Tfh) cells. The ability of the immune system to respond to vaccinations, such as that for influenza, declines with age. To begin to understand the mechanisms responsible for this decline, it is important to determine if age-related changes in CD4 T cell priming and Tfh differentiation lead to reductions in humoral responses following vaccination. To accomplish this, we have developed model systems that permit us to explore specific questions that remain unanswered in this field. Only when these questions are addressed and answered can we then begin to design strategies for overcoming them and enhancing vaccine efficacy for elderly populations. In our studies, we have used adoptive transfer models that allow us to examine the influence of aging on specific components of the immune response individually. We have made a great deal of progress in determining the influence of age on the function of Tfh cells and how this impacts the humoral response to vaccination. Tfh have been recently defined as CD4 T cells that provide cognate help for B cell responses. They express specific cell surface markers, produce specific cytokines and can be found within germinal centers (GC) following vaccination. Our studies have revealed three important points regarding Tfh and humoral immune responses with aging: (1) There are intrinsic age-related defects in Tfh function that lead to reduced B cell expansion, differentiation, IgG production and affinity maturation;(2) In addition to intrinsic age-related changes in Tfh, we have determined that there are age-related changes in the microenvironment of secondary lymphoid organs, including changes in CCL21 expression, which contributes to reduced CD4 T cell priming;(3) Antibodies (Ab) generated following vaccination of intact aged mice exhibit significantly reduced protective capacity and an altered repertoire when compared to young mice. Together, we propose that these factors contribute to reduced Tfh differentiation and the reduced ability to generate a robust response to vaccination in aged individuals, ultimately resulting in reduced protection from subsequent infection. In this proposal, we will examine the mechanisms responsible for the reduced/altered function of aged Tfh and how adjuvants can overcome these defects. Importantly, we will also examine how this impacts the generation of a protective humoral response following infiuenza vaccination. Our hypothesis is that age-related reductions in Tfh priming, which are due to both T cell intrinsic and extrinsic changes, are a major factor in the reduced humoral response to vaccinations and that enhancing this priming can improve the immune response in aged individuals.

Public Health Relevance

Influenza is foremost amongst infectious diseases associated with increased risk for serious complications and death with aging. While annual vaccination is a mainstay of influenza management, declines in the immune system contribute to reduction in vaccine efficacy for the elderly. Thus, we need to better understand how age-related defects in the immune system contribute to reduced vaccine efficacy and if those defects can be overcome. The focus of this project is to examine the mechanisms involved in reduced CD4 T cell function with aging and determine how these are overcome with use of more potent adjuvant

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Research Program Projects (P01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZAG1)
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Connecticut
United States
Zip Code
Lefebvre, Julie S; Lorenzo, Erica C; Masters, April R et al. (2016) Vaccine efficacy and T helper cell differentiation change with aging. Oncotarget 7:33581-94
Bartley, Jenna M; Pan, Sarah J; Keilich, Spencer R et al. (2016) Aging augments the impact of influenza respiratory tract infection on mobility impairments, muscle-localized inflammation, and muscle atrophy. Aging (Albany NY) 8:620-35
Lefebvre, Julie S; Masters, April R; Hopkins, Jacob W et al. (2016) Age-related impairment of humoral response to influenza is associated with changes in antigen specific T follicular helper cell responses. Sci Rep 6:25051
Zhou, Xin; Hopkins, Jacob W; Wang, Chongkai et al. (2016) IL-2 and IL-6 cooperate to enhance the generation of influenza-specific CD8 T cells responding to live influenza virus in aged mice and humans. Oncotarget 7:39171-39183
McElhaney, Janet E; Kuchel, George A; Zhou, Xin et al. (2016) T-Cell Immunity to Influenza in Older Adults: A Pathophysiological Framework for Development of More Effective Vaccines. Front Immunol 7:41
Yang, Rui; Lirussi, Dario; Thornton, Tina M et al. (2015) Mitochondrial Ca²⁺ and membrane potential, an alternative pathway for Interleukin 6 to regulate CD4 cell effector function. Elife 4:
Lanzer, Kathleen G; Johnson, Lawrence L; Woodland, David L et al. (2014) Impact of ageing on the response and repertoire of influenza virus-specific CD4 T cells. Immun Ageing 11:9
Zhang, Wenliang; Brahmakshatriya, Vinayak; Swain, Susan L (2014) CD4 T cell defects in the aged: causes, consequences and strategies to circumvent. Exp Gerontol 54:67-70
McKinstry, K Kai; Dutton, Richard W; Swain, Susan L et al. (2013) Memory CD4 T cell-mediated immunity against influenza A virus: more than a little helpful. Arch Immunol Ther Exp (Warsz) 61:341-53
Swain, Susan L; Blomberg, Bonnie B (2013) Immune senescence: new insights into defects but continued mystery of root causes. Curr Opin Immunol 25:495-7

Showing the most recent 10 out of 46 publications