Altered transcriptional responses in the lungs of aged mice after influenza infection

Background: Influenza causes a serious infection in older individuals who are at the highest risk for mortality from this virus. Changes in the immune system with age are well known. This study used transcriptomic analysis to evaluate how aging specifically affects the functional host response to influenza in the lung. Adult (12-16 weeks) and aged (72-76 weeks) mice were infected with influenza and lungs were processed for RNA analysis.

Results: Older mice demonstrated a delayed anti-viral response on the level of transcription compared to adults, similar to the immunologic responses measured in prior work. The transcriptional differences, however, were evident days before observable differences in the protein responses described previously. The transcriptome response to influenza in aged mice was dominated by immunoglobulin genes and B cell markers compared to adult animals, suggesting immune dysregulation. Despite these differences, both groups of mice had highly similar transcriptional responses involving non-immune genes one day after inoculation and T cell genes during resolution.

Conclusions: These results define a delayed and dysregulated immune response in the lungs of aged mice infected with influenza. The findings implicate B cells and immunoglobulins as markers or mechanisms of immune aging. In addition to discovering new therapeutic targets, the findings underscore the value of transcription studies and network analysis to characterize complex biological processes, and serve as a model to analyze the susceptibility of the elderly to infectious agents.