Epigenomics of human CD8 T cell differentiation and aging

Sci Immunol. 2017 Feb;2(8):eaag0192. doi: 10.1126/sciimmunol.aag0192. Epub 2017 Feb 17.

Abstract

The efficacy of the adaptive immune response declines dramatically with age, but the cell-intrinsic mechanisms driving immune aging in humans remain poorly understood. Immune aging is characterized by a loss of self-renewing naïve cells and the accumulation of differentiated but dysfunctional cells within the CD8 T cell compartment. Using ATAC-seq, we inferred the transcription factor binding activities correlated with naive and central and effector memory CD8 T cell states in young adults. Integrating our results with RNA-seq, we identified transcription networks associated with CD8 T cell differentiation, with prominent roles implicated for BATF, ETS1, Eomes, and Sp1. Extending our analysis to aged humans, we found that the differences between the memory and naive subsets were largely preserved across age, but that naive and central memory cells from older individuals exhibited a shift toward more differentiated patterns of chromatin openness. Additionally, aged naive cells displayed a loss in chromatin accessibility at gene promoters, largely associated with a decrease in NRF1 binding. This shift was implicated in a marked drop-off in the ability of the aged naive cells to transcribe respiratory chain genes, which may explain the reduced capacity of oxidative phosphorylation in older naïve cells. Our findings identify BATF- and NRF1-driven gene regulation as potential targets for delaying CD8 T cell aging and restoring function.