The ability to mount adaptive immune responses to vaccinations and viral infections declines with increasing age. To identify mechanisms leading to immunosenescence, primary CD4 T cell responses were examined in 60- to 75-year-old individuals lacking overt functional defects. Transcriptome analysis indicated a selective defect in zinc homeostasis. CD4 T cell activation was associated with zinc influx via the zinc transporter Zip6, leading to increased free cytoplasmic zinc and activation of negative feedback loops, including the induction of zinc-binding metallothioneins. In young adults, activation-induced cytoplasmic zinc concentrations declined after 2 days to below prestimulation levels. In contrast, activated naïve CD4 T cells from older individuals failed to downregulate cytoplasmic zinc, resulting in excessive induction of metallothioneins. Activation-induced metallothioneins regulated the redox state in activated T cells and accounted for an increased proliferation of old CD4 T cells, suggesting that regulation of T cell zinc homeostasis functions as a compensatory mechanism to preserve the replicative potential of naïve CD4 T cells with age.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geriatrics and Gerontology