Background: Type I interferon (IFN-I) production by plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) occurs during viral infection, in response to Toll-like receptor 7 (TLR7) stimulation and is more vigorous in females than in males. Whether this sex bias persists in ageing people is currently unknown. In this study, we investigated the effect of sex and aging on IFN-α production induced by PRR agonist ligands.
Methods: In a large cohort of individuals from 19 to 97 years old, we measured the production of IFN-α and inflammatory cytokines in whole-blood upon stimulation with either R-848, ODN M362 CpG-C, or cGAMP, which activate the TLR7/8, TLR9 or STING pathways, respectively. We further characterized the cellular sources of IFN-α.
Findings: We observed a female predominance in IFN-α production by pDCs in response to TLR7 or TLR9 ligands. The higher TLR7-driven IFN-α production in females was robustly maintained across ages, including the elderly. The sex-bias in TLR9-driven interferon production was lost after age 60, which correlated with the decline in circulating pDCs. By contrast, STING-driven IFN-α production was similar in both sexes, preserved with aging, and correlated with circulating monocyte numbers. Indeed, monocytes were the primary cellular source of IFN-α in response to cGAMP.
Interpretation: We show that the sex bias in the TLR7-induced IFN-I production is strongly maintained through ages, and identify monocytes as the main source of IFN-I production via STING pathway.
Funding: This work was supported by grants from Région Occitanie/Pyrénées-Méditerranée (#12052910, Inspire Program #1901175), University Paul Sabatier, and the European Regional Development Fund (MP0022856).
Keywords: Age; Monocytes; Nucleic acid sensing; Plasmacytoid dendritic cells; STING; Sex; TLR7; TLR9; Type I interferons.
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