Background. Obesity has been associated with chronic inflammation and oxidative stress. Both conditions play a determinant role in the pathogenesis of age-related diseases, such as immunosenescence. Adipose tissue can modulate the function of the immune system with the secretion of molecules influencing the phenotype of immune cells. Recently, the importance of the bone marrow (BM) in the maintenance of antigen-experienced adaptive immune cells has been documented. Despite this, whether high body mass index (BMI) may affect immune cells in the BM and the production of molecules supporting the maintenance of these cells it is unknown.
Methods. Using flow cytometry, the frequency and the phenotype of immune cell populations were measured in paired BM and PB samples obtained from persons with different BMI. Furthermore, the expression of BM cytokines was assessed. The influence of cytomegalovirus (CMV) on T cell subsets was additionally considered, dividing the donors into the CMV - and CMV + groups.
Results. Our study suggests that increased BMI may affect both the maintenance and the phenotype of adaptive immune cells in the BM. While the BM levels of IL-15 and IL-6, supporting the survival of highly differentiated T cells, and oxygen radicals increased in overweight persons, the production of IFNγ and TNF by CD8 + T cells was reduced. In addition, the frequency of B cells and CD4 + T cells positively correlated with BMI in the BM of CMV - persons. Finally, the frequency of several T cell subsets, and the expression of senescence/exhaustion markers within these subpopulations, were affected by BMI. In particular, the levels of bona fide memory T cells may be reduced in overweight persons.
Conclusion. Our work suggests that obesity may represent an independent risk factor supporting immunosenescence, in addition to aging and CMV. Metabolic interventions may help in improving the fitness of the immune system in the elderly.