Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and Merck Research Laboratories researchers have identified biomarkers of immune response and inflammation that can help predict how a patient will respond to the hepatitis B vaccination. This can create a new model to help predict age-related responses to the vaccine and change vaccination parameters, such as scheduling or additional interventions, to maximize the effectiveness of the vaccine.
The research paper, “Pre-Vaccination Inflammation and B-cell Signaling Predict Age-related Hyporesponse to Hepatitis B Vaccination,” was published in the journal Nature Communications.
As we age, levels of inflammatory cytokines increase in the blood and tissues. While inflammation is an important immune system response, chronic inflammation is connected to many diseases and associated with weaker health responses. This constant state of pro-inflammatory profile is an important contributor to the decline of health in elderly people who are already at an increased risk for illness and death from infection.
With the nation’s growing elderly population, better methods to prevent severe or poorly treatable infections have become necessary. Vaccination is the main approach for disease, such as hepatitis B prevention, but the changes observed in the immune system of older people have limited the effectiveness of the vaccine and the immune response.
Researchers developed a new method that helps predict the age-related response to the hepatitis B virus (HBV) vaccine. Older patients who have never been treated for hepatitis B were immunized with three vaccines, including one against HBV. Researchers observed that the strongest responses against HBV correlated with higher expression of genes that heighten B-cell responses and the frequency of memory B-cells.
On the other hand, higher frequencies of pro-inflammatory innate cells, higher levels of inflammatory response molecules and increased numbers of erythrocytes were associated with weaker responses to the vaccine. All these molecules and cell responses can be used as biomarkers for disease response, and such evaluation can lead to changes in the vaccination schedule or to the addition of new interventions, such as medication to fight inflammation and improve responses in the elderly.
“We have known for some time that vaccine response changes with age, but we have not been clear on the mechanism nor the important role of inflammation,” said Rafick-Pierre Sékaly, Ph.D., of the Case Western Reserve Department of Pathology, and the Richard J. Fasenmyer Professor of Immunopathogensis at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, in a press release. “By understanding the gene expression of immune inflammatory pathways, we believe that we are close to creating models to predict and improve vaccine response.”