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Weinberg A, Pang L, Johnson MJ, Caldas Y, Cho A, Tovar-Salazar A, Canniff J, Schmader KE, Popmihajlov Z, Levin MJ. The Effect of Age on the Immunogenicity of the Live Attenuated Zoster Vaccine Is Predicted by Baseline Regulatory T Cells and Varicella-Zoster Virus-Specific T Cell Immunity. Journal of Virology. 2019 Aug 1; 93(15).
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Abstract: Older age is associated with increased infectious morbidity and decreased immune responses to vaccines, but the mechanisms that mediate this effect are incompletely understood. The efficacy and immunogenicity of the live attenuated zoster vaccine (ZVL) have a very-well-described negative association with the age of the vaccinee. In a study of 600 ZVL recipients 50 to >80?years of age, we investigated immunological factors that might explain the effect of age on the immunogenicity of ZVL. Using FluoroSpot assays and flow cytometry, we determined that varicella-zoster virus (VZV)-specific peak T helper 1 (VZV-Th1) responses to ZVL were independently predicted by prevaccination VZV-Th1 responses, regulatory T cells (Treg), and PD1-expressing immune checkpoint T cells (Tcheck) but not by the age of the vaccinee. Persistence of VZV-Th1 1?year after vaccination was independently predicted by the factors mentioned above, by peak VZV-Th1 responses to ZVL, and by the age of the vaccinee. We further demonstrated by blocking experiments the mechanistic role of PD1 and CTLA4 as modulators of decreased VZV-Th1 responses in the study participants. VZV-specific cytotoxic T cell (VZV-CTL) and T follicular helper responses to ZVL did not correlate with age, but similar to other Th1 responses, VZV-CTL peak and baseline responses were independently correlated. These data expand our understanding of the factors affecting the magnitude and kinetics of T cell responses to ZVL in older adults and show the importance of prevaccination Treg and Tcheck in modulating the immunogenicity of ZVL. This presents new potential interventions to increase vaccine responses in older adults. Vaccination is the most effective method to protect older adults against viral infections. However, the immunogenicity of viral vaccines in older adults is notoriously poor. The live attenuated zoster vaccine (ZVL) provides the best example of a gradual decrease of vaccine immunogenicity with every 10-year age increase above 50?years. Here we show that the abundance of regulatory T cells before vaccine administration to older adults has a significant inhibitory effect on immune responses to ZVL and, together with baseline immunity to varicella-zoster virus, explains the effect of age on the immunogenicity of ZVL. Moreover, blockade of regulatory T cell mechanisms of action with biologic modulators restores immune responses to varicella-zoster virus in vaccinees. Collectively, these observations suggest that immune modulators that block regulatory T cell activity may increase responses to viral attenuated vaccines in older adults.