Background: The majority of deaths (90%) attributed to influenza are in person's age 65 or older. Little is known about whether defects in innate immune responses in geriatric individuals contribute to their susceptibility to influenza.
Objective: Our aim was to analyze interferon-alpha (IFN-alpha) production in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) isolated from young and geriatric adult donors, stimulated with influenza A or Toll-like receptor (TLR) ligands. IFN-alpha is a signature anti-viral cytokine that also shapes humoral and cell-mediated immune responses.
Results: Geriatric PBMCs produced significantly less IFN-alpha in response to live or inactivated influenza (a TLR7 ligand) but responded normally to CpG ODN (TLR9 ligand) and Guardiquimod (TLR7 ligand). All three ligands activate plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs). While there was a modest decline in pDC frequency in older individuals, there was no defect in uptake of influenza by geriatric pDCs.
Discussion and conclusion: Influenza-induced production of IFN-alpha was defective in geriatric PBMCs by a mechanism that was independent of reduced pDC frequency or viability, defects in uptake of influenza, inability to secrete IFN-alpha, or defects in TLR7 signaling.