Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Immunology and Microbiology


Pathology; Molecular Genetics and Microbiology

First Thesis Advisor

Dr. Harriet Robinson


DNA, Immunization, Infant, Newborn


Neonatal mice have immature immune systems with defects in several components of inflammatory, innate, and specific immune responses and develop a preferential T helper type 2 (Th2) response following immunization with many vaccine antigens. Although maternal antibody is the major form of protection from disease in early life when the neonatal immune system is still immature, the presence of maternal antibody also interferes with active immunization, placing infants at risk for severe bacterial and viral infection. Recent studies have suggested that immunizing with DNA plasmids encoding the vaccine antigen of interest is highly efficacious in a variety of adult animal models. However, similar extensive studies have not been conducted in infants. In this dissertation, we examine both the quantitative and qualitative differences between neonatal and adult humoral and cell-mediated immune responses in the presence or absence of maternal antibody.

First, we wished to determine if one-day-old neonatal mice immunized with plasmid DNA expressing influenza A/PR/8/34 hemagglutinin (HA) by either intramuscular (i.m.) or gene gun (g.g.) inoculation were capable of generating humoral responses comparable to those in mice immunized as adults. We found that newborn mice developed stable, long-lived, protective anti-HA-specific IgG responses similar in titer to those of adult DNA-immunized mice. However, unlike the adult i.m. and g.g. DNA immunizations, which develop polarized IgG2a and IgG1 responses, respectively, mice immunized as neonates developed a variety of IgG1-, IgG2a-, and mixed IgG1/IgG2a responses regardless of the inoculation method. Boosting increased, but did not change these antibody profiles. We also found that, in contrast to the DNA immunizations, inoculations of newborn mice with an A/PR/8/34 viral protein subunit preparation failed to elicit an antibody response. Further, temporal studies revealed that both responsiveness to protein vaccination and development of polarized patterns of T help following DNA immunization appeared by 2 weeks of age.

To determine if the disparity of polarized IgG responses between neonatal and adult DNA vaccinated mice was due to deficiencies in Th1 promoting cytokines, we addressed the ability of DNA encoding Th1 cytokines to bias the isotype of antibody raised by neonatal DNA immunization. We found that neonatal mice coimmunized with HA and either IL-12 or IFNγ-expressing DNAs developed IgG2a-biased immune responses, regardless of inoculation method, whereas these DNAs had no effect on IgG subtype patterns in adult DNA immunized mice. Consistent with the Th1-promoting effects of these cytokines, we also observed that codelivery of IL-12 or IFNγ DNAs raised T helper responses toward Th1 in mice immunized both as neonates or adults. Thus, codelivery of cytokine DNAs may be effective at tailoring immune responses depending on the required correlates of protection for a given pathogen.

Finally, we addressed the effect of maternal antibody on the elicitation of humoral and cell-mediated immune responses. We tested the ability of i.m. and g.g. immunization with DNA expressing influenza HA and/or nucleoprotein (NP) to raise protective humoral and cellular responses in the presence and absence of maternal antibody. We found that neonatal mice born to influenza-immune mothers raised full antibody responses to NP but failed to generate antibody responses to HA. In contrast, the presence of maternal antibody did not affect the generation of long-lived CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses to both HA and NP. Thus, maternal antibody did not affect cell-mediated responses, but rather it limited humoral responses, with the ability to limit the antibody response correlating with whether the DNA-expressed immunogen was localized in the plasma membrane or within the cell. We further observed that protection from influenza virus challenge was dependent on the presence of anti-HA IgG and was independent of the presence T cell responses.

Taken together with other published studies, the data presented in this dissertation help better characterize the responses elicited by DNA vaccines at birth. This dissertation presents several novel observations including the temporal development of polarized IgG subtype responses, the ability of codelivered Th1 cytokine DNA to affect both antibody and T cell responses in the neonate, and the ability to generate humoral responses to intracellular, but not plasma membrane proteins, in the presence of maternal antibody. Furthermore, the data provides rationale for further development of DNA vaccines in the neonate.



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