Premature Senescence and Increased Oxidative Stress in the Thymus of Down Syndrome Patients: Frontiers in Immunology

GE Marcovecchio, F Ferrua, E Fontana, S Beretta, M Genua, I Bortolomai, A Conti, D Montin, MT Cascarano, S Bergante, V D’Oria, A Giamberti, D Amodio, C Cancrini, A Carotti, R Di Micco, I Merelli, M Bosticardo, A Villa

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Down syndrome (DS) patients prematurely show clinical manifestations usually associated with aging. Their immune system declines earlier than healthy individuals, leading to increased susceptibility to infections and higher incidence of autoimmune phenomena. Clinical features of accelerated aging indicate that trisomy 21 increases the biological age of tissues. Based on previous studies suggesting immune senescence in DS, we hypothesized that induction of cellular senescence may contribute to early thymic involution and immune dysregulation. Immunohistochemical analysis of thymic tissue showed signs of accelerated thymic aging in DS patients, normally seen in older healthy subjects. Moreover, our whole transcriptomic analysis on human Epcam-enriched thymic epithelial cells (hTEC), isolated from three DS children, which revealed disease-specific transcriptomic alterations. Gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) of DS TEC revealed an enrichment in genes involved in cellular response to stress, epigenetic histone DNA modifications and senescence. Analysis of senescent markers and oxidative stress in hTEC and thymocytes confirmed these findings. We detected senescence features in DS TEC, thymocytes and peripheral T cells, such as increased β-galactosidase activity, increased levels of the cell cycle inhibitor p16, telomere length and integrity markers and increased levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS), all factors contributing to cellular damage. In conclusion, our findings support the key role of cellular senescence in the pathogenesis of immune defect in DS while adding new players, such as epigenetic regulation and increased oxidative stress, to the pathogenesis of immune dysregulation. © Copyright © 2021 Marcovecchio, Ferrua, Fontana, Beretta, Genua, Bortolomai, Conti, Montin, Cascarano, Bergante, D’Oria, Giamberti, Amodio, Cancrini, Carotti, Di Micco, Merelli, Bosticardo and Villa.
Original languageEnglish
Article number669893
JournalFront. Immunol.
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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