A Model to Demonstrate the Excessive T Cell Expansion and Differentiation of an Aged Immune System Produces Chronic Inflammation in Tissues

Researchers here use a novel model to demonstrate that T cells made to exhibiting the greater replication and differentiation characteristic of an aged immune system, leading to cellular senescence, cause chronic inflammation in heart tissue in young animals. The age-related decline of the adaptive immune system is thus sufficient to cause this sort of issue in and of itself, independently of other contributing causes, leading to tissue dysfunction. Clearing out harmful immune cells via senolytic drugs or other targeted approaches is one option, but a source of replacement T cells is also needed. A large part of the dysfunction of the aged adaptive immune system arises because the thymus, where T cells mature, atrophies in later life. Medical development must focus on at least two goals: restoring the thymus and selectively destroying harmful T cells.

The cardiovascular and immune systems undergo profound and intertwined alterations with aging. Recent studies have reported that an accumulation of memory and terminally differentiated T cells in elderly subjects can fuel myocardial aging and boost the progression of heart diseases. Nevertheless, it remains unclear whether the immunological senescence profile is sufficient to cause age-related cardiac deterioration or merely acts as an amplifier of previous tissue-intrinsic damage.

Herein, we sought to clarify the causality in this cardio-immune crosstalk by studying young mice harboring a senescent-like expanded CD4+ T cell compartment. Thus, immunodeficient NSG-DR1 mice expressing HLA-DRB1*01:01 were transplanted with human CD4+ T cells purified from matching donors that rapidly engrafted and expanded in the recipients without causing xenograft reactions.

In the donor subjects, the CD4+ T cell compartment was primarily composed of naïve cells defined as CCR7+CD45RO-. However, when transplanted into young lymphocyte-deficient mice, CD4+ T cells underwent homeostatic expansion, upregulated expression of PD-1 receptor and strongly shifted towards effector/memory (CCR7- CD45RO+) and terminally-differentiated phenotypes (CCR7-CD45RO-), as typically seen in elderly Differentiated CD4+ T cells also infiltrated the myocardium of recipient mice at comparable levels to what is observed during physiological aging. In addition, young mice harboring an expanded CD4+ T cell compartment showed increased numbers of infiltrating monocytes, macrophages, and dendritic cells in the heart.

Bulk mRNA sequencing analyses further confirmed that expanding T-cells promote myocardial inflammaging, marked by a distinct age-related transcriptomic signature. Altogether, these data indicate that exaggerated CD4+ T-cell expansion and differentiation, a hallmark of the aging immune system, is sufficient to promote myocardial alterations compatible with inflammaging in juvenile healthy mice.

Link: https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2021.584538

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