Background: The worldwide increase in life expectancy has been associated with an increase in age-related morbidities. The underlying mechanisms resulting in immunosenescence are only incompletely understood. Chronic viral infections, in particular infection with human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), have been suggested as a main driver in immunosenescence. Here, we propose that rhesus macaques could serve as a relevant model to define the impact of chronic viral infections on host immunity in the aging host. We evaluated whether chronic rhesus CMV (RhCMV) infection, similar to HCMV infection in humans, would modulate normal immunological changes in the aging individual by taking advantage of the unique resource of rhesus macaques that were bred and raised to be Specific Pathogen Free (SPF-2) for distinct viruses.
Results: Our results demonstrate that normal age-related immunological changes in frequencies, activation, maturation, and function of peripheral blood cell lymphocytes in humans occur in a similar manner over the lifespan of rhesus macaques. The comparative analysis of age-matched SPF-2 and non-SPF macaques that were housed under identical conditions revealed distinct differences in certain immune parameters suggesting that chronic pathogen exposure modulated host immune responses. All non-SPF macaques were infected with RhCMV, suggesting that chronic RhCMV infection was a major contributor to altered immune function in non-SPF macaques, although a causative relationship was not established and outside the scope of these studies. Further, we showed that immunological differences between SPF-2 and non-SPF macaques were already apparent in adolescent macaques, potentially predisposing RhCMV-infected animals to age-related pathologies.
Conclusions: Our data validate rhesus macaques as a relevant animal model to study how chronic viral infections modulate host immunity and impact immunosenescence. Comparative studies in SPF-2 and non-SPF macaques could identify important mechanisms associated with inflammaging and thereby lead to new therapies promoting healthy aging in humans.
Keywords: Aging; Immune development and maturation; Immune maturation and function; Inflammaging; RhCMV infection; Rhesus CMV infection; Rhesus macaques.