Enhanced immunogenicity of Plasmodium falciparum peptide vaccines using a topical adjuvant containing a potent synthetic Toll-like receptor 7 agonist, imiquimod

Caroline Othoro, Dean Johnston, Rebecca Lee, Jonathan Soverow, Jean-Claude Bystryn, Elizabeth Nardin
Infection and Immunity 2009, 77 (2): 739-48
Plasmodium sporozoites injected into the skin by malaria-infected mosquitoes can be effectively targeted by antibodies that block parasite invasion of host hepatocytes and thus prevent the subsequent development of blood stage infections responsible for clinical disease. Malaria subunit vaccines require potent adjuvants, as they lack known pathogen-associated molecular patterns found in attenuated viral or bacterial vaccines that function as Toll-like receptor (TLR) agonists to stimulate dendritic cells and initiate strong adaptive immune responses. A synthetic TLR7 agonist, imiquimod, which is FDA approved for topical treatment of various skin conditions, can function as a potent adjuvant for eliciting T-cell responses to intracellular pathogens and model protein antigens. In the current studies, the topical application of imiquimod at the site of subcutaneously injected Plasmodium falciparum circumsporozoite (CS) peptides elicited strong parasite-specific humoral immunity that protected against challenge with transgenic rodent parasites that express P. falciparum CS repeats. In addition, injection of a simple linear peptide followed by topical imiquimod elicited strong Th1 CD4(+) T-cell responses, as well as high antibody titers. The correlation of high anti-repeat antibody titers with resistance to sporozoite challenge in vivo and in vitro supports use of this topical TLR7 agonist adjuvant to elicit protective humoral immunity. The safety, simplicity, and economic advantages of a topical synthetic TLR7 agonist adjuvant also apply to other vaccines requiring high antibody titers, such as malaria asexual or sexual blood stage antigens to prevent red blood cell invasion and block transmission to the mosquito vector, and to vaccines to other extracellular pathogens.

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