Autophagy in T cells from aged donors is maintained by spermidine, and correlates with function and vaccine responses
Alsaleh G., Panse I., Swadling L., Zhang H., Meyer A., Lord J., Barnes E., Klenerman P., Green C., Simon AK.
Abstract Older adults are at high risk for infectious diseases such as the recent COVID-19 and vaccination seems to be the only long-term solution to the pandemic. While most vaccines are less efficacious in older adults, little is known about the molecular mechanisms that underpin this. Autophagy, a major degradation pathway and one of the few processes known to prevent aging, is critical for the maintenance of immune memory in mice. Here, we show induction of autophagy is specifically induced in human vaccine-induced antigen-specific T cells in vivo . Reduced IFNγ secretion by vaccine-induced T cells in older vaccinees correlates with low autophagy. We demonstrate in human cohorts that levels of the endogenous autophagy-inducing metabolite spermidine, fall with age and supplementing it in vitro recovers autophagy and T cell function. Finally, our data show that endogenous spermidine maintains autophagy via the translation factor eIF5A and transcription factor TFEB. With these findings we have uncovered novel targets and biomarkers for the development of anti-aging drugs for human T cells, providing evidence for the use of spermidine in improving vaccine immunogenicity in the aged human population.