Effects of ageing on murine NKT cell and macrophage populations
Pattison, Mari Anne
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The immune system is a complex network of tissues, cells and proteins which protects us against infections and invading pathogens we encounter every day. Immunosenescence refers to age-related impairments in immune function which may contribute to increased prevalence and severity of infectious disease in the elderly. How and why ageing affects the immune system is not fully understood. Using a naturally aged mouse model, work in this thesis shows that the abundance of a rare type of lymphocyte, known as NKT cells, increased across multiple immune organs. Additionally, macrophage abundance was also altered in the lymph nodes of aged mice. Invariant NKT (iNKT) cells express an invariant T cell receptor (TCR) which recognises lipids presented on the CD1d molecule. iNKT cells can be activated and respond to invading pathogens either by recognition of antigens through TCR-CD1d interactions or cytokine-dependent means. Less is known about NKT-like cells, which also express NK cell-associated surface markers, such as CD49b, but lack an invariant TCR. Data within this thesis show that both iNKT and NKT-like cell populations are abundant in the spleen and liver of aged mice. iNKT and NKT-like cells can be divided into subpopulations based on their expression of surface markers or transcription factors, and data suggests that not all subpopulations of these cells are affected by age equally. For instance, flow cytometry showed that while spleen-derived iNKT cells are significantly increased in aged mice, within the iNKT cell population the percentage representation of CD4+ cells are significantly reduced with age. Additionally, data indicates that both iNKT and NKT-like cells from aged mice show compromised responses to in vitro stimulation compared to young controls. Using bone marrow chimeras, where either young cells are reconstituted within an aged mouse or old cells are reconstituted within a young mouse, provided the opportunity to determine whether the aged environment contributes to this diminished response. Data demonstrates that the aged environment plays at least a partial role in these age-related changes to response to stimulation, however the young environment seems unable to reverse these changes. Macrophages are phagocytes which are found within all organs of the body. Studies in this thesis show that CD169+ macrophages have diminished numbers in the lymph nodes of aged mice, but this did not seem to affect the capture of the model antigen, dextran. Further studies revealed ageing affects macrophage populations differently in the different tissues within the body. For example, macrophage numbers remain constant in the spleen with ageing, but appear to increase in density in the lungs. To conclude, ageing can cause dramatic changes to the numbers and function of different cells of the immune system across multiple organs. Furthering our understanding of the ageing immune system and the underlying mechanisms which cause age-related decline in immune function is important to design strategies to improve the quality of the lives of the elderly.