Researchers at NIH-funded centers in the U.S. has have identified several genes and gene clusters associated with the immune response to flu vaccination.
The findings point to the prospect of using genetic profiles to predict individual responses to the flu vaccine.
The consortium’s analysis of data from multiple cohorts found that high baseline (i.e., before vaccination) expression levels of a signature of nine genes were associated with high antibody responses to flu vaccination, whereas low expression levels correlated with low antibody responses to vaccination.
The positive correlation was relevant to young adult individuals who were under 35 years of age, whereas in individuals aged 60 years and older, genes that correlated positively with the antibody response in younger subjects appeared to suggest a poorer response.
Vaccination is the best way to protect against flu infection, yet effectiveness of the vaccine varies widely among individuals.
To explore the role of genes in the immune response to flu vaccination, Yale researchers and their collaborators used data collected from more than 500 individuals who provided blood samples before and after being vaccinated.
Analyzing the data, the research team identified several gene “signatures,” or groups of genes, that were associated with a stronger response to the flu vaccine.
The response was determined by increases in antibodies that protect against infection.
We “were able to identify genes at baseline, before vaccination, that would predict how individuals would respond to the vaccine,” said Ruth Montgomery, associate professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine and a co-author.
The researchers also found that the while the genes were predictive of a robust vaccine response in adults younger than age 35, those same genes did not improve responses in adults over age 60.
“Another finding is that genes that contribute to good immune response are different in young and older people,” Montgomery noted.
The findings offer new insights into the biology of vaccine response. They may also help investigators predict responses in individuals and develop strategies to improve vaccines, Montgomery noted.
The researchers’ analysis was based on data from the Human Immunology Project Consortium (HIPC) and the Center for Human Immunology (CHI), which include samples from individuals spanning a range of geographical locations and vaccination seasons.
The initial findings were validated by an independent cohort of study subjects. All of the study data are available through the NIAID ImmPort repository and ImmuneSpace.