Better adjuvants are needed for vaccines against seasonal influenza. TLR7 agonists are potent activators of innate immune responses and thereby may be promising adjuvants. Among the imidazoquinoline compounds, 1-benzyl-2-butyl-1H-imidazo[4,5-c]quinolin-4-amine (BBIQ) was reported to be a highly active TLR7 agonist but has remained relatively unexplored because of its commercial unavailability. Indeed, in silico molecular modeling studies predicted that BBIQ had a higher TLR7 docking score and binding free energy than imiquimod, the gold standard TLR7 agonist. To circumvent the availability issue, we developed an improved and higher yield method to synthesize BBIQ. Testing BBIQ on human and mouse TLR7 reporter cell lines confirmed it to be TLR7 specific with significantly higher potency than imiquimod. To test its adjuvant potential, BBIQ or imiquimod were admixed with recombinant influenza hemagglutinin protein and administered to mice as two intramuscular immunizations 2 weeks apart. Serum anti-influenza IgG responses assessed by ELISA 2 weeks after the second immunization confirmed that the mice that received vaccine admixed with BBIQ had significantly higher anti-influenza IgG1 and IgG2c responses than mice immunized with antigen alone or admixed with imiquimod. This confirmed BBIQ to be a TLR7-specific adjuvant able to enhance humoral immune responses.
Keywords: in-silico modeling; Imidazoquinoline; TLR7; TLR8; adjuvant; imiquimod; influenza; vaccine.