Natural killer (NK) lymphocyte-mediated cytotoxicity and cytokine secretion control infections and cancers, but these crucial activities decline with age. NK cell development, homeostasis, and function require IL-15 and its chaperone, IL-15 receptor alpha (IL-15Rα). Macrophages and dendritic cells (DC) are major sources of these proteins. We had previously postulated that additional IL-15 and IL-15Rα is made by skeletal muscle and adipose tissue. These sources may be important in aging, when IL-15-producing immune cells decline. NK cells circulate through adipose tissue, where they may be exposed to local IL-15. The objectives of this work were to determine (1) if human muscle, subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT), and visceral adipose tissue (VAT) are sources of IL-15 and IL-15 Rα, and (2) whether any of these tissues correlate with NK cell activity in elderly humans. We first investigated IL-15 and IL-15Rα RNA expression in paired muscle and SAT biopsies from healthy human subjects. Both tissues expressed these transcripts, but IL-15Rα RNA levels were higher in SAT than in skeletal muscle. We also investigated tissue obtained from surgeries and found that SAT and VAT expressed equivalent amounts of IL-15 and IL-15Rα RNA, respectively. Furthermore, stromal vascular fraction cells expressed more IL-15 RNA than did adipocytes. To test if these findings related to circulating IL-15 protein and NK cell function, we tested 50 healthy adults aged > 70 years old. Plasma IL-15 levels significantly correlated with abdominal VAT mass in the entire cohort and in non-obese subjects. However, plasma IL-15 levels did not correlate with skeletal muscle cross-sectional area and correlated inversely with muscle strength. Plasma IL-15 did correlate with NK cell cytotoxic granule exocytosis and with CCL4 (MIP-1β) production in response to NKp46-crosslinking. Additionally, NK cell responses to K562 leukemia cells correlated inversely with muscle strength. With aging, immune function declines while infections, cancers, and deaths increase. We propose that VAT-derived IL-15 and IL-15Rα is a compensatory NK cell support mechanism in elderly humans.

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Published in Frontiers in Immunology, v. 9, article 440, p. 1-11.

© 2018 Al-Attar, Presnell, Clasey, Long, Walton, Sexton, Starr, Kern, Peterson and Lutz.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

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This work was supported by NIH grants, AG040542, AG049806, DK107646, DK071349, and UL1TR001998.

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The Supplementary Material for this article can be found online at http://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2018.00440/full#supplementary-material.

fimmu-09-00440_suppmaterial.pdf (151 kB)
Supplementary Material