Regulatory T cell frequencies and phenotypes following anti-viral vaccination

A. Charlotte M. T. de Wolf ,Susan van Aalst , Irene S. Ludwig, Caroline L. Bodinham, David J. Lewis, Ruurd van der Zee, Willem van Eden, Femke Broere 


Regulatory T cells (Treg) function in the prevention of excessive inflammation and maintenance of immunological homeostasis. However, these cells may also interfere with resolution of infections or with immune reactions following vaccination. Effects of Treg on vaccine responses are nowadays investigated, but the impact of vaccination on Treg homeostasis is still largely unknown. This may be a relevant safety aspect, since loss of tolerance through reduced Treg may trigger autoimmunity.

In exploratory clinical trials, healthy adults were vaccinated with an influenza subunit vaccine plus or minus the adjuvant MF59®, an adjuvanted hepatitis B subunit vaccine or a live attenuated yellow fever vaccine. Frequencies and phenotypes of resting (rTreg) and activated (aTreg) subpopulations of circulating CD4+ Treg were determined and compared to placebo immunization.

Vaccination with influenza vaccines did not result in significant changes in Treg frequencies and phenotypes. Vaccination with the hepatitis B vaccine led to slightly increased frequencies of both rTreg and aTreg subpopulations and a decrease in expression of functionality marker CD39 on aTreg. The live attenuated vaccine resulted in a decrease in rTreg frequency, and an increase in expression of activation marker CD25 on both subpopulations, possibly indicating a conversion from resting to migratory aTreg due to vaccine virus replication.

To study the more local effects of vaccination on Treg in lymphoid organs, we immunized mice and analyzed the CD4+ Treg frequency and phenotype in draining lymph nodes and spleen. Vaccination resulted in a transient local decrease in Treg frequency in lymph nodes, followed by a systemic Treg increase in the spleen.

Taken together, we showed that vaccination with vaccines with an already established safe profile have only minimal impact on frequencies and characteristics of Treg over time. These findings may serve as a bench-mark of inter-individual variation of Treg frequencies and phenotypes following vaccination.

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