Aging induces B cell defects and decreased antibody responses to influenza infection and vaccination

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14 Scopus citations


Background: Aging is characterized by a progressive decline in the capacity of the immune system to fight influenza virus infection and to respond to vaccination. Among the several factors involved, in addition to increased frailty and high-risk conditions, the age-associated decrease in cellular and humoral immune responses plays a relevant role. This is in large part due to inflammaging, the chronic low-grade inflammatory status of the elderly, associated with intrinsic inflammation of the immune cells and decreased immune function. Results: Aging is usually associated with reduced influenza virus-specific and influenza vaccine-specific antibody responses but some elderly individuals with higher pre-exposure antibody titers, due to a previous infection or vaccination, have less probability to get infected. Examples of this exception are the elderly individuals infected during the 2009 pandemic season who made antibodies with broader epitope recognition and higher avidity than those made by younger individuals. Several studies have allowed the identification of B cell intrinsic defects accounting for sub-optimal antibody responses of elderly individuals. These defects include 1) reduced class switch recombination, responsible for the generation of a secondary response of class switched antibodies, 2) reduced de novo somatic hypermutation of the antibody variable region, 3) reduced binding and neutralization capacity, as well as binding specificity, of the secreted antibodies, 4) increased epigenetic modifications that are associated with lower antibody responses, 5) increased frequencies of inflammatory B cell subsets, and 6) shorter telomeres. Conclusions: Although influenza vaccination represents the most effective way to prevent influenza infection, vaccines with greater immunogenicity are needed to improve the response of elderly individuals. Recent advances in technology have made possible a broad approach to better understand the age-associated changes in immune cells, needed to design tailored vaccines and effective therapeutic strategies that will be able to improve the immune response of vulnerable individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number37
JournalImmunity and Ageing
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Aging
  • Antibodies
  • B cells
  • Influenza infection
  • Influenza vaccination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Aging


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