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Inhibition of elastase enhances the adjuvanticity of alum and promotes anti-SARS-CoV-2 systemic and mucosal immunity

Kim, E;Attia, Z;Woodfint, RM;Zeng, C;Kim, SH;Steiner, HE;Shukla, RK;Liyanage, NPM;Ghimire, S;Li, J;Renukaradhya, GJ;Satoskar, AR;Amer, AO;Liu, SL;Cormet-Boyaka, E;Boyaka, PN;

Alum, used as an adjuvant in injected vaccines, promotes T helper 2 (Th2) and serum antibody (Ab) responses. However, it fails to induce secretory immunoglobulin (Ig) A (SIgA) in mucosal tissues and is poor in inducing Th1 and cell-mediated immunity. Alum stimulates interleukin 1 (IL-1) and the recruitment of myeloid cells, including neutrophils. We investigated whether neutrophil elastase regulates the adjuvanticity of alum, and whether a strategy targeting neutrophil elastase could improve responses to injected vaccines. Mice coadministered a pharmacological inhibitor of elastase, or lacking elastase, developed high-affinity serum IgG and IgA antibodies after immunization with alum-adsorbed protein vaccines, including the spike protein of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-Cov-2). These mice also developed broader antigen-specific CD4+ T cell responses, including high Th1 and T follicular helper (Tfh) responses. Interestingly, in the absence of elastase activity, mucosal SIgA responses were induced after systemic immunization with alum as adjuvant. Importantly, lack or suppression of elastase activity enhanced the magnitude of anti-SARS-CoV-2 spike subunit 1 (S1) antibodies, and these antibodies reacted with the same epitopes of spike 1 protein as sera from COVID-19 patients. Therefore, suppression of neutrophil elastase could represent an attractive strategy for improving the efficacy of alum-based injected vaccines for the induction of broad immunity, including mucosal immunity.