Self-adjuvanted mRNA vaccines induce local innate immune responses that lead to a potent and boostable adaptive immunity

Vaccine. 2016 Jul 19;34(33):3882-93. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2016.05.046. Epub 2016 Jun 18.


mRNA represents a new platform for the development of therapeutic and prophylactic vaccines with high flexibility with respect to production and application. We have previously shown that our two component self-adjuvanted mRNA-based vaccines (termed RNActive® vaccines) induce balanced immune responses comprising both humoral and cellular effector as well as memory responses. Here, we evaluated the early events upon intradermal application to gain more detailed insights into the underlying mode of action of our mRNA-based vaccine. We showed that the vaccine is taken up in the skin by both non-leukocytic and leukocytic cells, the latter being mostly represented by antigen presenting cells (APCs). mRNA was then transported to the draining lymph nodes (dLNs) by migratory dendritic cells. Moreover, the encoded protein was expressed and efficiently presented by APCs within the dLNs as shown by T cell proliferation and immune cell activation, followed by the induction of the adaptive immunity. Importantly, the immunostimulation was limited to the injection site and lymphoid organs as no proinflammatory cytokines were detected in the sera of the immunized mice indicating a favorable safety profile of the mRNA-based vaccines. Notably, a substantial boostability of the immune responses was observed, indicating that mRNA can be used effectively in repetitive immunization schedules. The evaluation of the immunostimulation following prime and boost vaccination revealed no signs of exhaustion as demonstrated by comparable levels of cytokine production at the injection site and immune cell activation within dLNs. In summary, our data provide mechanistic insight into the mode of action and a rational for the use of mRNA-based vaccines as a promising immunization platform.

Keywords: Antigen-presenting cells; Boostability; Immunostimulation; Innate immunity; mRNA vaccine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptive Immunity*
  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / administration & dosage*
  • Animals
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / immunology
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Female
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Injections, Intradermal
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • RNA, Messenger / immunology*
  • Vaccines / immunology*


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Cytokines
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Vaccines