Dysfunctional peripheral T follicular helper cells dominate in people with impaired influenza vaccine responses: Results from the FLORAH study

Suresh Pallikkuth, Lesley R. De Armas, Stefano Rinaldi, Varghese K. George, Li Pan, Kristopher L. Arheart, Rajendra Pahwa, Savita Pahwa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Antigen-primed cluster of differentiation (CD) 4+ T follicular helper (Tfh) cells interact with B cells in the germinal centers (GCs) of lymph nodes to generate vaccine-induced antibody (Ab) responses. In the circulation, peripheral Tfh (pTfh) cells, a subset of memory CD4 T cells, serve as surrogates for GC Tfh because of several functional and phenotypic similarities between them. We investigated features of H1N1 influenza antigen-specific pTfh (Ag. pTfh) in virologically controlled HIV+ volunteers on antiretroviral therapy (ART) and healthy control (HC) participants selected from a seasonal influenza vaccine responsiveness study. Selection of the participants was made based on age, defined as young (18–40 y) and old (>60 y) and on their classification as a vaccine responder (VR) or vaccine nonresponder (VNR). VRs demonstrated expansion of CD40L+ and CD69+ Ag.pTfh, with induction of intracellular interleukin 21 (IL-21) and inducible costimulator (ICOS) post vaccination; these responses were strongest in young HC VRs and were less prominent in HIV+ individuals of all ages. Ag.pTfh in VNRs exhibited dramatically different characteristics from VRs, displaying an altered phenotype and a cytokine profile dominated by cytokines IL-2, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), or IL-17 but lacking in IL-21. In coculture experiments, sorted pTfh did not support the B cell IgG production in VNRs and were predominantly an inflammatory T helper 1 (Th1)/T helper 17 (Th17) phenotype with lower ICOS and higher programmed cell death protein 1 (PD1) expression. Induction of IL-21 and ICOS on Ag.pTfh cells are negatively affected by both aging and HIV infection. Our findings demonstrate that dysfunctional Ag.pTfh cells with an altered IL-21/IL-2 axis contribute to inadequate vaccine responses. Approaches for targeting inflammation or expanding functional Tfh may improve vaccine responses in healthy aging and those aging with HIV infection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere3000257
JournalPLoS biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Dysfunctional peripheral T follicular helper cells dominate in people with impaired influenza vaccine responses: Results from the FLORAH study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this