Neonatal BCG Vaccination Reduces Interferon-γ Responsiveness to Heterologous Pathogens in Infants From a Randomized Controlled Trial

J Infect Dis. 2020 Jun 11;221(12):1999-2009. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jiaa030.


Background: BCG vaccination has beneficial nonspecific (heterologous) effects that protect against nonmycobacterial infections. We have previously reported that BCG vaccination at birth alters in vitro cytokine responses to heterologous stimulants in the neonatal period. This study investigated heterologous responses in 167 infants in the same trial 7 months after randomization.

Methods: A whole-blood assay was used to interrogate in vitro cytokine responses to heterologous stimulants (killed pathogens) and Toll-like receptor (TLR) ligands.

Results: Compared to BCG-naive infants, BCG-vaccinated infants had increased production of interferon gamma (IFN-γ) and monokine induced by gamma interferon (MIG) (CXCL9) in response to mycobacterial stimulation and decreased production of IFN-γ in response to heterologous stimulation and TLR ligands. Reduced IFN-γ responses were attributable to a decrease in the proportion of infants who mounted a detectable IFN-γ response. BCG-vaccinated infants also had increased production of MIG (CXCL9) and interleukin-8 (IL-8), and decreased production of IL-10, macrophage inflammatory protein-1α (MIP-1α), and MIP-1β, the pattern of which varied by stimulant. IL-1Ra responses following TLR1/2 (Pam3CYSK4) stimulation were increased in BCG-vaccinated infants. Both sex and maternal BCG vaccination status influenced the effect of neonatal BCG vaccination.

Conclusions: BCG vaccination leads to changes in IFN-γ responsiveness to heterologous stimulation. BCG-induced changes in other cytokine responses to heterologous stimulation vary by pathogen.

Keywords: BCG; heterologous; immunization; infants; innate immunity; nonspecific effects.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase III
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Australia
  • BCG Vaccine / administration & dosage
  • BCG Vaccine / immunology*
  • Bacterial Infections / immunology
  • Bacterial Infections / microbiology
  • Bacterial Infections / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Host Microbial Interactions / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Heterologous*
  • Immunization Schedule
  • Immunogenicity, Vaccine*
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Interferon-gamma / blood
  • Interferon-gamma / immunology
  • Interferon-gamma / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Mass Vaccination / methods
  • Treatment Outcome


  • BCG Vaccine
  • IFNG protein, human
  • Interferon-gamma