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J Immunol. 2005 Jun 15;174(12):7676-83.

Immunization with HIV-1 Gag protein conjugated to a TLR7/8 agonist results in the generation of HIV-1 Gag-specific Th1 and CD8+ T cell responses.

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Vaccine Research Center, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


One strategy to induce optimal cellular and humoral immune responses following immunization is to use vaccines or adjuvants that target dendritic cells and B cells. Activation of both cell types can be achieved using specific TLR ligands or agonists directed against their cognate receptor. In this study, we compared the ability of the TLR7/8 agonist R-848, which signals only via TLR7 in mice, with CpG oligodeoxynucleotides for their capacity to induce HIV-1 Gag-specific T cell and Ab responses when used as vaccine adjuvants with HIV-1 Gag protein in mice. Injection of R-848 and CpG oligodeoxynucleotides alone enhanced the innate immune responses in vivo as demonstrated by high serum levels of inflammatory cytokines, including IL-12p70 and IFN-alpha, and increased expression of CD80, CD86, and CD40 on CD11c(+) dendritic cells. By contrast, R-848 was a relatively poor adjuvant for inducing primary Th1 or CD8(+) T cell responses when administered with HIV-1 Gag protein. However, when a TLR7/8 agonist structurally and functionally similar to R-848 was conjugated to HIV-1 Gag protein both Th1 and CD8(+) T cells responses were elicited as determined by intracellular cytokine and tetramer staining. Moreover, within the population of HIV-1 Gag-specific CD8(+) CD62(low) cells, approximately 50% of cells expressed CD127, a marker shown to correlate with the capacity to develop into long-term memory cells. Overall, these data provide evidence that TLR7/8 agonists can be effective vaccine adjuvants for eliciting strong primary immune responses with a viral protein in vivo, provided vaccine delivery is optimized.

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