Subunit vaccines composed of recombinant or purified antigens have a good safety record but are poorly immunogenic and require adjuvants to activate innate immunity and facilitate antigen specific immune response. Of the many adjuvant formulations that are under development, very few are licensed mainly due to concerns about adverse side effects. The goal of our study was to develop in vitro assays that could predict toxicity of adjuvants in vivo. Pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-β, IL-6, TNF-α, and IL-8 were measured in human primary monocytes and the monocytoid cell line, MonoMac 6 (MM6), activated with a panel of TLR agonists or with adjuvants. A 0.5 EU/ml dose of Standard for endotoxin (previously shown to provide a margin between pyrogenic and non-pyrogenic substances in rabbits) was used as a comparator to establish a "safety threshold". FSL-1, Pam3CSK4, flagellin, and R848 TLR agonists but not Alum, MF59, Poly I:C, or MPL adjuvants induced cytokines in MM6 cells above the safety threshold. To confirm the predictive value of the in vitro assays, FSL-1 and flagellin were injected intramuscularly into New Zealand White (NZW) rabbits. Both TLR agonists induced fever within 6-8h post-injection followed 24-48 h later by increased C reactive protein (CRP). Importantly, an early peak in plasma prostaglandin E2 (PGE(2)) levels preceded rise in body temperature. In vitro production of PGE(2) in monocytes and MM6 cells was found following treatments with various TLR agonists but not with alum, MF59, MPL, or Poly I:C adjuvants. Together, our studies demonstrated a strong correlation between production of pro-inflammatory cytokines above a "safety threshold" and production of PGE(2)in vitro and an increase in body temperature in rabbits. The developed human cell based assays could provide an important tool for early screening of new molecular moieties and adjuvant formulations and may assist in selection of safer products.
Published by Elsevier Ltd.