Immunosenescence refers to age-related declines in the capacity to respond to infections such as influenza (flu). Caloric restriction represents a known strategy to slow many aging processes, including those involving the immune system. More recently, some changes in the microbiome have been described with aging, while the gut microbiome appears to influence responses to flu vaccination and infection. With these considerations in mind, we used a well-established mouse model of flu infection to explore the impact of flu infection, aging, and caloric restriction on the gut microbiome. Young, middle-aged, and aged caloric restricted (CR) and ad lib fed (AL) mice were examined after a sublethal flu infection. All mice lost 10-20% body weight and, as expected for these early time points, losses were similar at different ages and between diet groups. Cytokine and chemokine levels were also similar with the notable exception of IL-1α, which rose more than fivefold in aged AL mouse serum, while it remained unchanged in aged CR serum. Fecal microbiome phyla abundance profiles were similar in young, middle-aged, and aged AL mice at baseline and at 4 days post flu infection, while increases in Proteobacteria were evident at 7 days post flu infection in all three age groups. CR mice, compared to AL mice in each age group, had increased abundance of Proteobacteria and Verrucomicrobia at all time points. Interestingly, principal coordinate analysis determined that diet exerts a greater effect on the microbiome than age or flu infection. Percentage body weight loss correlated with the relative abundance of Proteobacteria regardless of age, suggesting flu pathogenicity is related to Proteobacteria abundance. Further, several microbial Operational Taxonomic Units from the Bacteroidetes phyla correlated with serum chemokine/cytokines regardless of both diet and age suggesting an interplay between flu-induced systemic inflammation and gut microbiota. These exploratory studies highlight the impact of caloric restriction on fecal microbiome in both young and aged animals, as well as the many complex relationships between flu responses and gut microbiota. Thus, these preliminary studies provide the necessary groundwork to examine how gut microbiota alterations may be leveraged to influence declining immune responses with aging.
Keywords: aging; caloric restriction; cytokines; gut microbiome; influenza.