The attenuated live vaccine strain bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) is currently the only available vaccine against tuberculosis (TB), but is largely ineffective against adult pulmonary TB, the most common disease form. This is in part due to BCG's ability to interfere with the host innate immune response, a feature that might be targeted to enhance the potency of this vaccine. Here, we investigated the ability of chitosan-based nanoparticles (pIC-NPs) containing polyinosinic-polycytidylic acid (poly(I:C)), an inducer of innate immunity via Toll-like receptor 3 (TLR3), to enhance the immunogenicity of BCG in mouse bone marrow derived macrophages (BMDM) in vitro. Incorporation of poly(I:C) into NPs protected it against degradation by ribonucleases and increased its uptake by mouse BMDM. Whereas soluble poly(I:C) was ineffective, pIC-NPs strongly enhanced the proinflammatory immune response of BCG-infected macrophages in a synergistic fashion, as evident by increased production of cytokines and induction of nitric oxide synthesis. Using macrophages from mice deficient in key signaling molecules involved in the pathogen recognition response, we identified combined activation of MyD88- and TRIF-dependent TLR signaling pathways to be essential for the synergistic effect between BCG and NP. Moreover, synergy was strongly dependent on the order of the two stimuli, with TLR activation by BCG functioning as the priming event for the subsequent pIC-NP stimulus, which acted through an auto-/paracrine type I interferon (IFN) feedback loop. Our results provide a foundation for a promising new approach to enhance BCG-vaccine immunogenicity by costimulation with NPs. They also contribute to a molecular understanding of the observed synergistic interaction between the pIC-NPs and BCG vaccine.
Keywords: Toll-like receptor synergy; adjuvant; bacille Calmette−Guérin (BCG); chitosan; nanoparticles; poly(I:C); type I interferons (IFNs).