Mechanistic Insights into the Impairment of Memory B Cells and Antibody Production in the Elderly

Aberle et al., AGE (2013) - PMID: 22282053

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It is well established that immunologic memory generated early in life can be maintained into old age and mediate robust anamnestic antibody responses. Little is known, however, about the initiation of memory B cells in the elderly. We have conducted a prospective analysis of the quantities and functionalities of antigen-specific B cell responses and its association with the functional helper CD4(+)T cell responses. The ability of naïve B cells from old (60-80 years) and young (20-31 years) humans to establish functional memory was examined following primary and booster vaccination with an inactivated-virus vaccine against tick-borne encephalitis. Our data show that the number of antigen-specific memory B cells generated during primary vaccination was ~3-fold lower in old than in young individuals. The maintenance and booster responsiveness of these memory B cells were not compromised, as evidenced by similar increases in specific memory B cell frequencies upon revaccination in old and young adults. In contrast, the Ab response mediated per memory B cell after revaccination was dramatically diminished in the elderly. Also, antigen-specific IL-2-positive CD4(+)T cell responses were strongly reduced in the elderly and displayed an excellent correlation with Ab titres. The data suggest that the dramatically lower antibody response in the elderly could only partially be accounted for by the reduced B cell numbers and was strongly correlated with profound functional defects in CD4 help.

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