Chlamydia is responsible for a wide range of diseases with enormous global economic and health burden. As the majority of chlamydial infections are asymptomatic, a vaccine has greatest potential to reduce infection and disease prevalence. Protective immunity against Chlamydia requires the induction of a mucosal immune response, ideally, at the multiple sites in the body where an infection can be established. Mucosal immunity is most effectively stimulated by targeting vaccination to the epithelium, which is best accomplished by direct vaccine application to mucosal surfaces rather than by injection. The efficacy of needle-free vaccines however is reliant on a powerful adjuvant to overcome mucosal tolerance. As very few adjuvants have proven able to elicit mucosal immunity without harmful side effects, there is a need to develop non-toxic adjuvants or safer ways to administered pre-existing toxic adjuvants.
In the present study we investigated the novel non-toxic mucosal adjuvant CTA1-DD. The immunogenicity of CTA1-DD was compared to our “gold-standard” mucosal adjuvant combination of cholera toxin (CT) and cytosine-phosphate-guanosine oligodeoxynucleotide (CpG-ODN). We also utilised different needle-free immunisation routes, intranasal (IN), sublingual (SL) and transcutaneous (TC), to stimulate the induction of immunity at multiple mucosal surfaces in the body where Chlamydia are known to infect. Moreover, administering each adjuvant by different routes may also limit the toxicity of the CT/CpG adjuvant, currently restricted from use in humans. Mice were immunised with either adjuvant together with the chlamydial major outer membrane protein (MOMP) to evaluate vaccine safety and quantify the induction of antigen-specific mucosal immune responses. The level of protection against infection and disease was also assessed in vaccinated animals following a live genital or respiratory tract infectious challenge.
The non-toxic CTA1-DD was found to be safe and immunogenic when delivered via the IN route in mice, inducing a comparable mucosal response and level of protective immunity against chlamydial challenge to its toxic CT/CpG counterpart administered by the same route. The utilisation of different routes of immunisation strongly influenced the distribution of antigen-specific responses to distant mucosal surfaces and also abrogated the toxicity of CT/CpG. The CT/CpG-adjuvanted vaccine was safe when administered by the SL and TC routes and conferred partial immunity against infection and pathology in both challenge models. This protection was attributed to the induction of antigen-specific pro-inflammatory cellular responses in the lymph nodes regional to the site of infection and rather than in the spleen. Development of non-toxic adjuvants and effective ways to reduce the side effects of toxic adjuvants has profound implications for vaccine development, particularly against mucosal pathogens like Chlamydia. Interestingly, we also identified two contrasting vaccines in both infection models capable of preventing infection or pathology exclusively. This indicated that the development of pathology following an infection of vaccinated animals was independent of bacterial load and was instead the result of immunopathology, potentially driven by the adaptive immune response generated following immunisation. While both vaccines expressed high levels of interleukin (IL)-17 cytokines, the pathology protected group displayed significantly reduced expression of corresponding IL-17 receptors and hence an inhibition of signalling. This indicated that the balance of IL-17-mediated responses defines the degree of protection against infection and tissue damage generated following vaccination. This study has enabled us to better understand the immune basis of pathology and protection, necessary to design more effective vaccines.