W Gelson, M Hoare, S Vowler, A Shankar, P Gibbs, AN Akbar, GJM Alexander
Immune senescence is the normal process whereby the human immune system ages, but becomes less effective. We investigated whether liver transplant recipients have features of immune senescence. Lymphocytes from 97 liver transplant recipients with established grafts and 41 age-matched and sex-matched controls were subjected to an 8-color flow cytometry assay that measured expression of killer cell lectin-like receptor subfamily G member 1, cluster of differentiation 127 (CD127), CD45RO, CD27, CD28, CD4, CD8, and CD57. Lymphocyte telomere length was assessed by flow-fluorescence in situ hybridization. Cases were compared with controls for each marker of immune senescence using a Mann-Whitney U test. For liver transplant recipients, linear regression analyses identified associations between markers of immune senescence and clinical or demographic characteristics. Lymphocytes from liver transplant recipients expressed more phenotypic markers of maturity than did lymphocytes from controls. Lymphocyte telomeres were shorter in liver transplant recipients than in controls. Age, hepatocellular carcinoma at transplantation, and skin malignancy developing after transplantation were associated independently with shortened lymphocyte telomeres. Increasing age and previous cytomegalovirus infection were associated independently with phenotypic markers of lymphocyte maturity. Thus, lymphocytes from liver transplant recipients are older "biologically" than lymphocytes from age-matched and sex-matched controls. Hepatocellular carcinoma at transplantation, subsequent skin malignancy, and previous cytomegalovirus infection are associated with lymphocyte senescence in liver transplant recipients.