Age, atherosclerosis and type 2 diabetes reduce human mesenchymal stromal cell-mediated T-cell suppression
© Kizilay Mancini et al. 2015
Received: 10 March 2015
Accepted: 8 July 2015
Published: 8 August 2015
To this end human MSCs were isolated from adipose tissue and the MSC:CD4+ T-cell suppression was assessed in a co-culture system. In summary, this study demonstrates that advanced age, atherosclerosis and type 2 diabetes mellitus reduce the functional potency of MSCs. Optimizing the criteria for the selection of MSC donors could enhance the results of cell-based therapies.
Age and age- associated conditions (type 2 diabetes and athrosclerosis) decrease the immunomodulatory capacity of MSCs.
Optimal donor selection and proper immunological characterization of MSCs are critical for the successful therapeutic use of MSCs.
Atherosclerotic ischemic heart disease is the leading cause of death in developed countries. The prevalence, incidence, and severity of atherosclerosis (ATH) markedly increase with chronological age and in the context of age-associated chronic inflammatory conditions such as type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) . Chronic inflammation is a key regulatory process that links multiple risk factors for ATH and its complications to altered arterial biology. In mature atherosclerotic lesions, immune responses mediated by CD4+ T cells seem to be critical to accelerate atherogenesis and to promote plaque instability . This is supported by the correlation between increased circulating numbers of activated CD4+ T cells and the extent of ATH in carotid and coronary arteries, and by the larger number of these cells in unstable plaques compared to those from patients with stable coronary artery disease [3, 4]. In vivo studies also showed the arrest in the development and progression of ATH following T cell-targeted therapy (i.e., anti-CD3Ab) . The fundamental role of immune-activation in ATH provides the rationale to develop therapeutic interventions that restore immune homeostasis in ischemic heart disease. Among these strategies, the use of mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) showed promise in preclinical studies and most recently in patients with nonrevascularizable ischemic myocardium (reviewed in [6, 7]). Immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory effects of MSCs are key mechanisms underlying their therapeutic effects . A critical aspect linked to the success of any type of cell therapy is the appropriate selection of donors; however, the effect of donor’s age and age-associated co-morbidities on human MSC-mediated T-cell suppression remains undefined [9, 10]. The aim of this study was to evaluate the impact of chronological aging and of the age-associated diseases, ATH and T2DM, on the immunomodulatory capacity of MSCs.
Demographic characteristics of the study subjects
Coronary artery by-pass
n = 41
n = 9
Sex (female:male, n)
Age in years, mean (SD)
Ethnicity (Caucasian:Asian, n)
Body mass index, mean (SD)
Cardiovascular risk factors, n (%)
Type 2 diabetes
Medications, n (%)
MSCs from older donors are less efficient at suppressing T-cell proliferation
Results of linear regression analysis of factors associated with mesenchymal stromal cell immunomodulatory function
Presence of ATH
Presence of T2DM
ATH and T2DM reduce the immunomodulatory capacity of MSCs
The PRECISE trial demonstrated the feasibility, safety and potential therapeutic benefit of the transendocardial administration of autologous adipose-derived MSCs in no-option patients with ischemic cardiomyopathy . This study provided a proof of concept to test MSCs in larger ongoing clinical trials . However, the improvement of cardiac function varied in preclinical trials. This emphasizes the need to define determinants of MSC therapeutic efficiency that will inform on proper donor selection [7, 14]. Previous data suggest that the aging process may impair the functional activity of murine MSCs, limiting their therapeutic potential . Delineating the effects of aging and age-associated conditions on MSC function is critical, since the vast majority of patients that would benefit from MSC use in the context of ATH are elderly individuals. Notably, a significant proportion of this cohort also has T2DM . Furthermore, defining the factors that impact MSC function would help to identify proper criteria to select the most therapeutically efficient cells for clinical applications.
Recent evidence confirmed that early-passage (i.e., passages 2–4) and freshly harvested MSCs have better in vitro T-cell suppression capacity and are associated with more clinical benefits than late-passage and freeze/thawed MSCs . Our findings suggest that even when tested under “optimal” conditions (i.e., fresh early-passage MSCs in a reproducible immunopotency assay ), MSCs from elderly subjects with ATH have impaired T-cell suppression compared to their non-elderly adult counterparts. Consistent with previous studies [18, 19], this impaired function was not explained by differences in the MSC proliferative capacity or phenotype. Similar to E-MSCs, MSCs from donors with ATH and T2DM have reduced MSC-mediated T-cell suppression, and the coexistence of these chronic inflammatory conditions further compromise MSC function.
The overall efficacy of stem cell transplantation relies on the activity of donor cells and tissue environment. Our co-culture model is limited to MSCs and PBMCs and does not fully simulate all the components of the in vivo ischemic and inflammatory environment. However, this system predicts the MSC immunomodulatory potency, which is the most relevant mechanism for the therapeutic effect of MSCs . The finding that age, T2DM and ATH are associated with reduced MSC immunomodulatory function is in line with a recent report suggesting that MSCs from subjects over 60 years of age have a reduced ability to ameliorate myocardial function compared to patients younger than 40 years . A reduction of MSC-secreted angiogenic factors , an increased vulnerability to hypoxic injury  and higher levels of miR-335 are mechanisms proposed to account for the diminished reparative activities of E-MSCs.
In summary, our results indicate that age and age-associated conditions (T2DM and ATH) decrease the immunomodulatory capacity of MSCs, highlighting the relevance of donor selection and the need for proper immunological characterization of MSCs. Understanding the interplay between aging, MSC function and their clinical implications remains the only rational path to the successful therapeutic use of MSCs.
Adult mesenchymal stromal cell
Elderly mesenchymal stromal cell
Mesenchymal stromal cell
Non-atherosclerosis (samples from patients undergoing valve replacement surgery)
Peripheral blood mononuclear cell
Type 2 diabetes mellitus
This work was supported by an operating grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Programme de bourses de Chercheur-boursier clinicien from the Fonds De Recherche Sante Quebec. The authors are grateful to Maximilien Lora for his help in optimizing the conditions of the initial experiments.
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