Detection of innate immune response modulating impurities in therapeutic proteins

PLoS One. 2015 Apr 22;10(4):e0125078. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0125078. eCollection 2015.


Therapeutic proteins can contain multiple impurities, some of which are variants of the product, while others are derived from the cell substrate and the manufacturing process. Such impurities, even when present at trace levels, have the potential to activate innate immune cells in peripheral blood or embedded in tissues causing expression of cytokines and chemokines, increasing antigen uptake, facilitating processing and presentation by antigen presenting cells, and fostering product immunogenicity. Currently, while products are tested for host cell protein content, assays to control innate immune response modulating impurities (IIRMIs) in products are focused mainly on endotoxin and nucleic acids, however, depending on the cell substrate and the manufacturing process, numerous other IIRMI could be present. In these studies we assess two approaches that allow for the detection of a broader subset of IIRMIs. In the first, we use commercial cell lines transfected with Toll like receptors (TLR) to detect receptor-specific agonists. This method is sensitive to trace levels of IIRMI and provides information of the type of IIRMIs present but is limited by the availability of stably transfected cell lines and requires pre-existing knowledge of the IIRMIs likely to be present in the product. Alternatively, the use of a combination of macrophage cell lines of human and mouse origin allows for the detection of a broader spectrum of impurities, but does not identify the source of the activation. Importantly, for either system the lower limit of detection (LLOD) of impurities was similar to that of PBMC and it was not modified by the therapeutic protein tested, even in settings where the product had inherent immune modulatory properties. Together these data indicate that a cell-based assay approach could be used to screen products for the presence of IIRMIs and inform immunogenicity risk assessments, particularly in the context of comparability exercises.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / immunology
  • Cell Line
  • Chemokines / immunology
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology*
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / immunology
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Mice
  • Proteins / immunology*
  • Toll-Like Receptors / immunology


  • Chemokines
  • Cytokines
  • Proteins
  • Toll-Like Receptors

Grant support

The work was funded by the Food and Drug Administration. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.