Classical and lectin complement pathways and markers of inflammation for investigation of susceptibility to infections among healthy older adults

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  • David C LaFon, University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • ,
  • Steffen Thiel
  • Young-Il Kim, University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • ,
  • Mark T Dransfield, University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • ,
  • Moon H Nahm, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Background: There is increasing recognition of the significance of chronic, low-level inflammation in older adults, or "inflammaging." Innate immune responses and host-bacterial interactions are recognized as key factors in inflammaging. Inflammatory cytokine IL-6, and complement protein C1q have been identified as biomarkers for the development of frailty and aging-related diseases. Older adults are also susceptible to infections with serotypes of Streptococcus pneumoniae that bind ficolin-2, a component of the lectin complement pathway, and low ficolin-2 levels could possibly be involved in such susceptibility.

Methods: The aim of our study was to evaluate complement pathway components and biomarkers for inflammaging among older adults in order to investigate potential innate immune mechanisms that may account for susceptibility to infections in this population. We compared inflammatory markers, as well as components/activity of the classical and lectin complement pathways between healthy older and younger adults. We hypothesized that older adults would have higher levels of inflammatory markers and C1q, and lower levels of lectin pathway components. Older (≥70 years old) and younger (19-54 years old) adults without significant smoking history or chronic medical conditions were eligible for participation. Inflammatory markers (IL-6, TNF-α, CRP), classical complement pathway activity (CH50) and protein levels (C1q, C3, C4), and lectin pathway (MBL levels/activity, CL-L1, MASP-1/2/3, MAp44, MAp19, and H/M/L-ficolin) were compared between groups.

Results: Older adults had significantly higher mean levels of IL-6 and TNF-α. There were no significant differences in lectin pathway components between older and younger adults. Unexpectedly, mean C1q was significantly higher in the younger group in both unadjusted and adjusted analyses. There was also a significant association between race and C1q levels, but this association did not completely account for the observed differences between age groups.

Conclusions: We did not observe deficiencies in lectin pathway components to account for increased susceptibility to ficolin-binding serotypes of S. pneumoniae. Elevated levels of inflammatory cytokines in older adults are suggestive of inflammaging. However, the observed age and race-associated changes in C1q have not been previously reported in the populations included in our study. These findings are relevant to the investigation of C1q in aging-related pathology, and for its proposed role as a biomarker for frailty and disease.

Original languageEnglish
Article number18
JournalImmunity & ageing : I & A
Volume17
Number of pages9
ISSN1742-4933
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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