Maternal antibodies: clinical significance, mechanism of interference with immune responses, and possible vaccination strategies

Front Immunol. 2014 Sep 16:5:446. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2014.00446. eCollection 2014.


Neonates have an immature immune system, which cannot adequately protect against infectious diseases. Early in life, immune protection is accomplished by maternal antibodies transferred from mother to offspring. However, decaying maternal antibodies inhibit vaccination as is exemplified by the inhibition of seroconversion after measles vaccination. This phenomenon has been described in both human and veterinary medicine and is independent of the type of vaccine being used. This review will discuss the use of animal models for vaccine research. I will review clinical solutions for inhibition of vaccination by maternal antibodies, and the testing and development of potentially effective vaccines. These are based on new mechanistic insight about the inhibitory mechanism of maternal antibodies. Maternal antibodies inhibit the generation of antibodies whereas the T cell response is usually unaffected. B cell inhibition is mediated through a cross-link between B cell receptor (BCR) with the Fcγ-receptor IIB by a vaccine-antibody complex. In animal experiments, this inhibition can be partially overcome by injection of a vaccine-specific monoclonal IgM antibody. IgM stimulates the B cell directly through cross-linking the BCR via complement protein C3d and antigen to the complement receptor 2 (CR2) signaling complex. In addition, it was shown that interferon alpha binds to the CD21 chain of CR2 as well as the interferon receptor and that this dual receptor usage drives B cell responses in the presence of maternal antibodies. In lieu of immunizing the infant, the concept of maternal immunization as a strategy to protect neonates has been proposed. This approach would still not solve the question of how to immunize in the presence of maternal antibodies but would defer the time of infection to an age where infection might not have such a detrimental outcome as in neonates. I will review successful examples and potential challenges of implementing this concept.

Keywords: B cell receptor; FcγRIIB; cotton rat; maternal antibody; maternal immunization.

Publication types

  • Review