Association of GDF15 with inflammation and physical function during aging and recovery after acute hospitalization: a longitudinal study of older patients and age-matched controls

Growth differentiation factor 15 (GDF15) is a stress-induced cytokine. Its plasma levels increase during aging and acute illness. In older Patients and age-matched Controls, we evaluated whether GDF15 levels (i) were associated with recovery after acute illness, and (ii) reflected different trajectories of aging and longitudinal changes in health measures. Fifty-two older Patients (≥65 years) were included upon admission to the Emergency Department (ED). At 30 days after discharge (time of matching), Patients were matched 1:1 on age and sex with Controls who had not been hospitalized within two years of inclusion. Both groups were followed up after 1 year. We assessed plasma levels of GDF15 and inflammatory biomarkers, frailty, nutritional status (mini nutritional assessment short-form), physical and cognitive function, and metabolic biomarkers. In Patients, elevated GDF15 levels at ED admission were associated with poorer resolution of inflammation (soluble urokinase plasminogen activator receptor, suPAR), slowing of gait speed, and declining nutritional status between admission and 30-day follow-up. At time of matching, Patients were frailer and overall less healthy than age-matched Controls. GDF15 levels were significantly associated with participant group, on average Patients had almost 60% higher GDF15 than age-matched Controls, and this difference was partly mediated by reduced physical function. Increases in GDF15 levels between time of matching and 1-year follow-up were associated with increases in levels of interleukin-6 in Patients, and tumor necrosis factor-α and suPAR in age-matched Controls. In older adults, elevated GDF15 levels were associated with signs of accelerated aging and with poorer recovery after acute illness.

as reported in: J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2021 Jan 11 [Epub ahead of print]