Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)


Biomedical Sciences

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

David L. Williams

Committee Members

Tammy R. Ozment, Jennifer V. Hall, Valentin P. Yakubenko, Donald B. Hoover


The global population is rapidly aging. It is estimated that over the next thirty years, the number of individuals >60 years of age will increase by over a billion, and the number of individuals over age 80 may increase by 300 million. As humans age, our immune system becomes progressively weaker through a process called immune senescence. This age-related decrease in immune function increases susceptibility to infection and chronic diseases. Sepsis is a leading cause of death worldwide. Over the past two decades, there has been an increased incidence of sepsis which is due, in part, to our aging population and immune senescence. The gut microbiome, which plays an essential role in health and disease, is altered in aging and sepsis. Specifically, the commensal microorganisms of the gut microbiota are replaced with potentially pathogenic bacteria. This contributes to immune dysfunction and worsened outcomes in critical illness. The innate immune system can be “trained” to respond more effectively to pathogens. We examined trained immunity as an approach to modulating immunosenescence and microbiome diversity in aging. We investigated the effect of trained immunity on: i) immune cells from healthy aging subjects and sepsis patients and ii) the diversity of the microbiome in aging and sepsis. Our results indicate that trained immunity is effective in combatting age-related immunosenescence. We found that β-glucan induced trained immunity enhances monocyte metabolism, increases functionality as well as alters the transcriptome and epigenome in aging individuals and sepsis patients. We also found that trained immunity induced the expansion of a unique population of myeloid cells in sepsis. These cells are defined as FSChi, CD11b+, GR-1hi and express high levels of immunosuppressive PD-L1. In addition, we found that trained immunity reversed age-related changes to the microbiome and prevented alterations to the microbiome in septic mice. We found that the Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes ratio increased in aging; however, trained immunity reversed this increase and increased Clostridia in aged mice. In sepsis, trained immunity prevented expansion of Proteobacteria observed in control mice. Thus, our results indicate that trained immunity may be effective in modulating immune senescence and the microbiome in aging and sepsis.

Document Type

Dissertation - unrestricted


Copyright by the authors.