As of June 2020, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has killed an estimated 440 000 people worldwide, 74% of whom were aged ≥65 years, making age the most significant risk factor for death caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection. To examine the effect of age on death, we established a SARS-CoV-2 infection model in Chinese rhesus macaques ( Macaca mulatta) of varied ages. Results indicated that infected young macaques manifested impaired respiratory function, active viral replication, severe lung damage, and infiltration of CD11b + and CD8 + cells in lungs at one-week post infection (wpi), but also recovered rapidly at 2 wpi. In contrast, aged macaques demonstrated delayed immune responses with a more severe cytokine storm, increased infiltration of CD11b + cells, and persistent infiltration of CD8 + cells in the lungs at 2 wpi. In addition, peripheral blood T cells from aged macaques showed greater inflammation and chemotaxis, but weaker antiviral functions than that in cells from young macaques. Thus, the delayed but more severe cytokine storm and higher immune cell infiltration may explain the poorer prognosis of older aged patients suffering SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Keywords: COVID-19 Elderly Immune response Non-human primate animal model