CD40L, a key regulator of the immune system, was studied as both a targeting ligand and a molecular adjuvant in nucleoprotein (NP)-based host defense against influenza in mouse models with different genetic backgrounds. Adenoviral vectors secreting NP-CD40L fusion protein (denoted as rAd-SNP40L) afforded full protection of immunocompetent and immunocompromised mice (CD40L(-/-) and CD4(-/-)) against lethal influenza infection. Mechanistically, rAd-SNP40L preferentially induced early and persistent B cell germinal center formation, and accelerated Ig isotype-switching and Th1-skewed, NP-specific Ab response. Moreover, it drastically augmented primary and memory NP-specific CTL activity and polyfunctional CD8(+) T cells. The markedly enhanced nonneutralizing Abs and CTLs significantly reduced viral burdens in the lungs of mice upon lethal virus challenge. Data generated from CD40L(-/-) and CD4(-/-) mice revealed that the protection was indeed CD40L mediated but CD4(+) T cell independent, demonstrating the viability of the fusion Ags in protecting immunodeficient hosts. Notably, a single dose of rAd-SNP40L completely protected mice from lethal viral challenge 4 mo after immunization, representing the first report, to our knowledge, on NP in conjunction with a molecular adjuvant inducing a robust and long-lasting memory immune response against influenza. This platform is characterized by an increased in vivo load of CD40-targeted Ag upon the secretion of the fusion protein from adenovirus-infected cells and may represent a promising strategy to enhance the breadth, durability, and potency of Ag-specific immune responses.
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