Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Adjuvants: a little less ‘dirty’, less secret

How do adjuvants – mixtures that promote immunization/vaccination – work? Malherbe and colleagues applied modern tools and ideas to answer this old question. They analyzed the immune responses of mice (B10.BR strain) to the protein PCC (pigeon cytochrome C), which they had previously shown to be dominated by helper T cells (Th) responding to a single PCC fragment (peptide ‘epitope’ associated with I-Ek) and expressing T cell receptors (TCR) encoded by Valpha11Vbeta3 (a11b3). They concluded from those previous studies that TCR affinity, above a threshold level, does not drive clonal diversity.

Here, they compared Th numbers and diversity after subcutaneous immunization in an aluminum precipitate (Alum), or in an emulsion known as “incomplete Freund’s adjuvant” (IFA), or complete Freund’s adjuvant (CFA = IFA + dead mycobacterium), or with aqueous oligodeoxynucleotide (CpG) that stimulates the innate immunity Toll Like Receptor-9 (TLR-9), or monophosphoryl lipid A (MPL) that stimulates TLR-4.

First, they compared the numbers of TCRa11b3+ Th in draining lymph nodes on day 7 after immunization with or without PCC antigen and found a ~30 fold range among the adjuvants. MPL induced the largest number of PCC-specific Th but also many nonspecific Th. CpG induced the largest differential between PCC-specific and nonspecific Th whereas Alum induced nearly as many nonspecific as specific Th. The response kinetics were all similar, peaking around day 7. Second, they analyzed the TCR sequence “features…that assort with PCC-specificity” in dozens of single Th cells, concluding that clonal dominance occurred with or without TLR agonists or antigen ‘depots’ (IFA, CFA, and Alum). Third, they found lower affinity TCR Jbeta2.5 regions predominated among Th responding to depot-forming adjuvants, whereas higher affinity Jbeta1.2 predominated among Th responding to the non-depot forming adjuvants (CpG and MPL). Also, Vbeta usage depended upon the adjuvant.
Fourth, in affinity tests using PCC-I-Ek tetramers, they found a range of responses similar to those they had found in TCRa11b3+ cells (from Figure 4C, open circles are immunizations without PCC, bars are immunizations with PCC). Also consistent with the sequence analysis, CpG and MPL induced higher levels of binding as measured by mean fluorescence intensity (MFI).
Fifth, upon PCC immunization of mice hosting Th with transgenic high- or low-affinity TCRs, they found that IFA stimulated both populations equally whereas MPL stimulated Th with the high-affinity TCR but not those with the low-affinity TCR. Sixth, they found MPL as effective as the depot-forming IFA in activating transgenic Th transferred 5 days after immunization. Finally, 400 ug PCC in MPL induced as much Th proliferation as did 40 ug without changing the ratio of high- and low-affinity TCR, though 4 ug was suboptimal.

These parameters will be useful guides in determining how adjuvants improve immune protection, the goal of vaccination, especially in humans.

Malherbe L, Mark L, Fazilleau N, McHeyzer-Williams LJ, McHeyzer-Williams MG. “Vaccine adjuvants alter TCR-based selection thresholds”. Immunity. 2008 May;28(5):698-709.

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