Age-related declines in immune response in a wild mammal are unrelated to immune cell telomere length
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
© 2016 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.
Senescence has been hypothesised to arise in part from age-related declines in immune performance, but the patterns and drivers of within-individual age-related changes in immunity remain virtually unexplored in natural populations. Here, using a long-term epidemiological study of wild European badgers (Meles meles), we (i) present evidence of a within-individual age-related decline in the response of a key immune-signalling cytokine, Interferon-gamma (IFNγ), to ex vivo lymphocyte stimulation, and (ii) investigate three putative drivers of individual variation in the rate of this decline (sex, disease and immune-cell telomere length; ICTL). That the within-individual rate of age-related decline markedly exceeded that at the population level suggests that individuals with weaker IFNγ responses are selectively lost from this population. IFNγ responses appeared to decrease with the progression of bovine tuberculosis infection (independent of age) and were weaker among males than females. However, neither sex nor disease influenced the rate of age-related decline in IFNγ response. Similarly, while ICTL also declines with age, variation in ICTL predicted neither among- nor within-individual variation in IFNy response. Our findings provide evidence of within-individual age-related declines in immune performance in a wild mammal and highlight the likely complexity of the mechanisms that generate them.
University of Exeter
BBSRC David Phillips Research Fellowship
Volume 283, issue 1825, article 20152949