Aug. 22, 2019

​Understanding how T cells combat illness, infection and inflammation could lead to targeted treatments to reduce or eliminate infirmities associated with aging. BGU biologists have taken a step towards that goal by profiling 24,007 T Cells in young and old mice. T cells control our bodies' adaptive immune responses. Their findings were just published in Science Advances.

The researchers from BGU and the National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev (NIBN), discovered that there were distinct subsets of CD4 T cells which were significantly altered in older mice. In young mice, the subsets were still able to adapt, whereas in the older mice, about 30% of the subsets had deteriorated in various ways. They believe these findings begin to explain how human beings become prone to a variety of illnesses as they age. 

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Prof. Alon Monsonego of the Shraga Segal Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Genetics of the Faculty of Health Sciences and the NIBN and Prof. Esti Yeger-Lotem, also of the NIBN and the Department of Clinical Biochemistry and Pharmacology, co-led the study. 

"We were able to track the transformation of central elements in the immune system for the first time. Such transformations could expose them to the problems of aging, " Prof. Monsonego said, "The study's findings provide new tools to track these changes, and to eventually intervene and correct them." 

"We used a number of computational methods to track gene expression in thousands of cells within the immune system, which gave us a detailed picture of how the immune system changes as we age," Prof. Yeger-Lotem added. "When we classified the various cells, first computationally and then experimentally, we were surprised to discover types of cells that weren't previously seen in aging, which demonstrates the change the immune system undergoes as we age." 

However, the emerging picture is complex. Their findings indicated that one subset only present in aged mice promoted inflammation, while another one reduced it. The researchers also marked subsets which had previously been recognized in cancer and chronic inflammation but not in aging. Therefore, while more research is needed, "an intriguing avenue to understand age-related immune failure has been opened." 

As people live longer, preventing age-related illnesses becomes ever more relevant. These findings support the growing trend of predictive medicine, the attempt to detect deterioration before clinical signs present themselves, which could enable medical intervention at the point where such deterioration could be halted or slowed. 

Additional researchers from BGU included: Yehezqel Elyahu, Idan Hekselman, Omer Berner, Itai Strominger, Kritika Mittal, Anna Nemirovsky, Ekaterina Eremenko, Assaf Vital, Eyal Simonovsky, and Vered Chalifa-Caspi. Maya Schiller of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology collaborated alongside Inbal Eizenberg-Magar and Nir Friedman from The Weizmann Institute of Science.​