DNA vaccines remain an important component of HIV vaccination strategies, typically as part of a prime/boost vaccination strategy with viral vector or protein boost. A number of DNA prime/viral vector boost vaccines are currently being evaluated for both preclinical studies and in Phase I and Phase II clinical trials. These vaccines would benefit from molecular adjuvants that increase correlates of immunity during the DNA prime. While HIV vaccine immune correlates are still not well defined, there are a number of immune assays that have been shown to correlate with protection from viral challenge including CD8+ T cell avidity, antigen-specific proliferation, and polyfunctional cytokine secretion.
Methodology and Principal Findings
Recombinant DNA vaccine adjuvants composed of a fusion between Surfactant Protein D (SP-D) and either CD40 Ligand (CD40L) or GITR Ligand (GITRL) were previously shown to enhance HIV-1 Gag DNA vaccines. Here we show that similar fusion constructs composed of the TNF superfamily ligands (TNFSFL) 4-1BBL, OX40L, RANKL, LIGHT, CD70, and BAFF can also enhanced immune responses to a HIV-1 Gag DNA vaccine. BALB/c mice were vaccinated intramuscularly with plasmids expressing secreted Gag and SP-D-TNFSFL fusions. Initially, mice were analyzed 2 weeks or 7 weeks following vaccination to evaluate the relative efficacy of each SP-D-TNFSFL construct. All SP-D-TNFSFL constructs enhanced at least one Gag-specific immune response compared to the parent vaccine. Importantly, the constructs SP-D-4-1BBL, SP-D-OX40L, and SP-D-LIGHT enhanced CD8+ T cell avidity and CD8+/CD4+ T cell proliferation 7 weeks post vaccination. These avidity and proliferation data suggest that 4-1BBL, OX40L, and LIGHT fusion constructs may be particularly effective as vaccine adjuvants. Constructs SP-D-OX40L, SP-D-LIGHT, and SP-D-BAFF enhanced Gag-specific IL-2 secretion in memory T cells, suggesting these adjuvants can increase the number of self-renewing Gag-specific CD8+ and/or CD4+ T cells. Finally adjuvants SP-D-OX40L and SP-D-CD70 increased TH1 (IgG2a) but not TH2 (IgG1) antibody responses in the vaccinated animals. Surprisingly, the B cell-activating protein BAFF did not enhance anti-Gag antibody responses when given as an SP-D fusion adjuvant, but nonetheless enhanced CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses.
We present evidence that various SP-D-TNFSFL fusion constructs can enhance immune responses following DNA vaccination with HIV-1 Gag expression plasmid. These data support the continued evaluation of SP-D-TNFSFL fusion proteins as molecular adjuvants for DNA and/or viral vector vaccines. Constructs of particular interest included SP-D-OX40L, SP-D-4-1BBL, SP-D-LIGHT, and SP-D-CD70. SP-D-BAFF was surprisingly effective at enhancing T cell responses, despite its inability to enhance anti-Gag antibody secretion.