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Dysfunctional peripheral T follicular helper cells dominate in people with impaired influenza vaccine responses: Results from the FLORAH study

Pallikkuth, S;de Armas, LR;Rinaldi, S;George, VK;Pan, L;Arheart, KL;Pahwa, R;Pahwa, S;

Antigen-primed cluster of differentiation (CD) 4+ T follicular helper (Tfh) cells interact with B cells in the germinal centers (GCs) of lymph nodes to generate vaccine-induced antibody (Ab) responses. In the circulation, peripheral Tfh (pTfh) cells, a subset of memory CD4 T cells, serve as surrogates for GC Tfh because of several functional and phenotypic similarities between them. We investigated features of H1N1 influenza antigen-specific pTfh (Ag.pTfh) in virologically controlled HIV+ volunteers on antiretroviral therapy (ART) and healthy control (HC) participants selected from a seasonal influenza vaccine responsiveness study. Selection of the participants was made based on age, defined as young (18-40 y) and old (>60 y) and on their classification as a vaccine responder (VR) or vaccine nonresponder (VNR). VRs demonstrated expansion of CD40L+ and CD69+ Ag.pTfh, with induction of intracellular interleukin 21 (IL-21) and inducible costimulator (ICOS) post vaccination; these responses were strongest in young HC VRs and were less prominent in HIV+ individuals of all ages. Ag.pTfh in VNRs exhibited dramatically different characteristics from VRs, displaying an altered phenotype and a cytokine profile dominated by cytokines IL-2, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-), or IL-17 but lacking in IL-21. In coculture experiments, sorted pTfh did not support the B cell IgG production in VNRs and were predominantly an inflammatory T helper 1 (Th1)/T helper 17 (Th17) phenotype with lower ICOS and higher programmed cell death protein 1 (PD1) expression. Induction of IL-21 and ICOS on Ag.pTfh cells are negatively affected by both aging and HIV infection. Our findings demonstrate that dysfunctional Ag.pTfh cells with an altered IL-21/IL-2 axis contribute to inadequate vaccine responses. Approaches for targeting inflammation or expanding functional Tfh may improve vaccine responses in healthy aging and those aging with HIV infection.