Background: BCG vaccination, combined with adenoviral-delivered boosts, represents a reasonable strategy to augment, broaden and prolong immune protection against tuberculosis (TB). We tested BCG (SSI1331) (in 6 animals, delivered intradermally) and a recombinant (rBCG) AFRO-1 expressing perfringolysin (in 6 animals) followed by two boosts (delivered intramuscullary) with non-replicating adenovirus 35 (rAd35) expressing a fusion protein composed of Ag85A, Ag85B and TB10.4, for the capacity to induce antigen-specific cellular immune responses in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). Control animals received diluent (3 animals).
Methods and findings: Cellular immune responses were analyzed longitudinally (12 blood draws for each animal) using intracellular cytokine staining (TNF-alpha, IL-2 and IFN-gamma), T cell proliferation was measured in CD4(+), CD8alpha/beta(+), and CD8alpha/alpha(+) T cell subsets and IFN-gamma production was tested in 7 day PBMC cultures (whole blood cell assay, WBA) using Ag85A, Ag85B, TB10.4 recombinant proteins, PPD or BCG as stimuli. Animals primed with AFRO-1 showed i) increased Ag85B-specific IFN-gamma production in the WBA assay (median >400 pg/ml for 6 animals) one week after the first boost with adenoviral-delivered TB-antigens as compared to animals primed with BCG (<200 pg/ml), ii) stronger T cell proliferation in the CD8alpha/alpha(+) T cell subset (proliferative index 17%) as compared to BCG-primed animals (proliferative index 5% in CD8alpha/alpha(+) T cells). Polyfunctional T cells, defined by IFN-gamma, TNF-alpha and IL-2 production were detected in 2/6 animals primed with AFRO-1 directed against Ag85A/b and TB10.4; 4/6 animals primed with BCG showed a Ag85A/b responses, yet only a single animal exhibited Ag85A/b and TB10.4 reactivity.
Conclusion: AFRO-1 induces qualitatively and quantitatively different cellular immune responses as compared with BCG in rhesus macaques. Increased IFN-gamma-responses and antigen-specific T cell proliferation in the CD8alpha/alpha+ T cell subset represents a valuable marker for vaccine-take in BCG-based TB vaccine trials.