Genetic regulation of immune responses to vaccines in early life

Genes Immun. 2004 Mar;5(2):122-9. doi: 10.1038/sj.gene.6364051.


Infant immunization is the most cost-effective strategy to prevent infectious diseases in childhood, but is limited by immaturity of the immune system. To define strategies to improve vaccine immunogenicity in early life, the role of genetic and environmental factors in the control of vaccine responses in infant twins was studied. Immune responses to BCG, polio, hepatitis B, diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus vaccines were measured at 5 months of age in 207 Gambian twin pairs recruited at birth. Intrapair correlations for monozygous and dizygous pairs were compared to estimate the environmental and genetic components of variation in responses. High heritability was observed for antibody (Ab) responses to hepatitis B (77%), oral polio (60%), tetanus (44%) and diphtheria (49%) vaccines. Significant heritability was also observed for interferon-gamma and interleukin-13 responses to tetanus, pertussis and some BCG vaccine antigens (39-65%). Non-HLA genes played a dominant role in responses to Ab-inducing vaccines, whereas responses to BCG were predominantly controlled by genes within the HLA class II locus. Genetic factors, particularly non-HLA genes, significantly modulate immune responses to infant vaccination. The identification of the specific genes involved will provide new targets for the development of vaccines and adjuvants for young infants that work independently of HLA.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • BCG Vaccine / immunology*
  • Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis Vaccine / immunology*
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Gambia
  • Genes, MHC Class I / genetics
  • Hepatitis B Vaccines / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Active / genetics*
  • Immunity, Active / immunology
  • Immunoglobulin G / blood
  • Infant
  • Interferon-gamma / immunology
  • Interleukin-13 / immunology
  • Linear Models
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Poliovirus Vaccine, Oral / immunology*
  • Twins / genetics*


  • BCG Vaccine
  • Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis Vaccine
  • Hepatitis B Vaccines
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Interleukin-13
  • Poliovirus Vaccine, Oral
  • Interferon-gamma