Background: Attempts to optimize DNA vaccines in mice include using different routes of administration and different formulations. It may be more relevant to human use to carry such studies out in nonhuman primates. Here we compare different approaches to delivery of a DNA vaccine against the hepatitis B virus (HBV) in Aotus monkeys.
Materials and methods: Thirty-two adult Aotus l. lemurinus monkeys divided into 8 groups of four were immunized with 400 microg of a DNA vaccine which encoded hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg). DNA in saline was administered by intradermal (ID) or intramuscular (IM) injection with needle and syringe, IM injection with the Biojector needleless injection system or combined ID (needle) and IM (Biojector). DNA formulated with cationic liposomes (CellFECTIN) was injected IM with needle or Biojector. DNA with added E. coli DNA (100 microg) was injected IM with the Biojector or ID. A ninth group of 4 monkeys was injected IM (needle) with Engerix-B, a commercial vaccine containing recombinant HBsAg (10 microg) adsorbed onto alum. Monkeys were boosted in an identical fashion to their prime at 8 weeks, but all received the protein vaccine (Engerix-B) at 16 weeks. Sera was assessed for antibodies against HBsAg (anti-HBs) by enzyme-linked imunosorbent assay (ELISA).
Results: The primary humoral response induced by IM delivery of the DNA vaccine was very poor. In most cases there was no detectable anti-HBs even after 2 DNA doses but the kinetics of the response to subsequent protein indicated that a memory B cell response had been induced. In contrast, following IM-administration of DNA using the Biojector, detectable anti-HBs were observed in 3 of 8 animals and evidence for immunological priming was apparent in an additional 4 of the 8 monkeys. ID injection of DNA vaccine in saline induced a potent antibody response which was augmented 6-fold by the addition of E. coli DNA. Combining ID and IM administration did not improve humoral immunity over ID injection alone.
Conclusions: For immunization of primates with DNA vaccines, ID may be a preferable route to IM, although it is not clear whether the Aotus monkey is a relevant model for humans in this respect. Nevertheless, the use of the Biojector needleless injection system may improve responses with IM delivery of DNA vaccines. As well, the immunostimulatory action of E. coli DNA may be used to augment the humoral response induced by a DNA vaccine.