Improving Vaccines For The Elderly by Blocking Inflammation

Source: University College of London

Summary: A research team has found that an anti-inflammatory pill could help make vaccines more effective for elderly people whose immunity declines over the age.

It is well known that human immune system declines with age, and people can be affected by pathogens they were once immune to. When it comes to cutaneous immunity – specific to skin – the immune system was being obstructed by skin cells that were too prone to producing inflammation responses. Normally inflammation is a healthy part of the body’s immune response but too much inflammation will get in the way of the rest of the body’s defences. Researchers from the University of London have identified a way to block the inflammation with the help of an anti-inflammatory pill which could help make vaccines more effective for elderly people whose immunity declines over the age. The study findings were published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

A bodily response against foreign bodies

Immune responses in the skin of young and old study participants to a saline solution and to a VZV antigen. In older participants, a p38 inhibitor improved the immune response by blocking inflammation. Credit: JACI, Milica Vukmanovic-Stejic et al

To investigate immune responses, the researchers injected an antigen – a derivative of a pathogen (varicella-zoster virus – causes chickenpox) that creates an immune response without inducing illness – into the skin of 175 participants (78 were over 65 years old and the rest were under 40). The research team found that the older subjects exhibited weaker immune responses, as there was less Tcell activation and less reddening and swelling of the skin. By analyzing skin biopsies post-injection, the researchers found that the excessive inflammation was associated with activation of the p38 MAP kinase pathway. A drug called Losmapimod was tested which reduced acute inflammation responses. Researchers are hopeful that this novel application of the drug could help make vaccines more effective in older people.

Dr. Jonathan Pearce said, “This interesting study shows how our immune system changes as we age, with increased inflammatory responses potentially hindering our ability to raise a protective immune response to pathogens. This insight may help us improve vaccine responses in the elderly – a group at particular risk of diseases including influenza – by pre-treatment with anti-inflammatory agents.”

More Information: Milica Vukmanovic-Stejic et al, Enhancement of cutaneous immunity during aging by blocking p38 mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase–induced inflammation, Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.jaci.2017.10.032

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