Pulmonary infections with nontuberculous mycobacteria (P-NTM), such as by Mycobacterium avium complex (M. avium), are increasingly found in the elderly, but the underlying mechanisms are unclear. Recent studies suggest that adaptive immunity is necessary, but not sufficient, for host defense against mycobacteria. Heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) has been recognized as a critical modulator of granuloma formation and programmed cell death in mycobacterial infections. Old mice (18-21 mo) infected with M. avium had attenuated HO-1 response with diffuse inflammation, high burden of mycobacteria, poor granuloma formation, and decreased survival (45%), while young mice (4-6 mo) showed tight, well-defined granuloma, increased HO-1 expression, and increased survival (95%). To further test the role of HO-1 in increased susceptibility to P-NTM infections in the elderly, we used old and young HO-1+/+ and HO-1-/- mice. The transcriptional modulation of the JAK/STAT signaling pathway in HO-1-/- mice due to M. avium infection demonstrated similarities to infected wild-type old mice with upregulation of SOCS3 and inhibition of Bcl2. Higher expression of SOCS3 with downregulation of Bcl2 resulted in higher macrophage death via cellular necrosis. Finally, peripheral blood monocytes (PBMCs) from elderly patients with P-NTM also demonstrated attenuated HO-1 responses after M. avium stimulation and increased cell death due to cellular necrosis (9.69% ± 2.02) compared with apoptosis (4.75% ± 0.98). The augmented risk for P-NTM in the elderly is due, in part, to attenuated HO-1 responses, subsequent upregulation of SOCS3, and inhibition of Bcl2, leading to programmed cell death of macrophages, and sustained infection.
Keywords: SOCS3; aging; cell death; heme oxygenase 1; nontuberculosis mycobacterium.