Investigating the influence of BCG and hepatitis B vaccine on neonatal immune responses
Document TypeMasters Research thesis
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© 2020 Lianne Cox
Neonatal infectious diseases result in an estimated 40% of neonatal deaths worldwide and contribute significantly to chronic morbidity. Childhood disease-specific immunisation is irrefutably linked to the decline in deaths from targeted infections over the last century. However, neonatal immunisation strategies are limited, in part, due to impairments in their adaptive immune function. Vaccine-induced protection from severe forms of tuberculosis (TB) with the Bacille Calmette-Guerin vaccine (BCG) and perinatally-acquired hepatitis B infection with the hepatitis B vaccine (HBV) are two exceptions, with these vaccines commonly administered to neonates worldwide. Evidence for heterologous (‘non-specific’) effects (NSEs) of various vaccines used in childhood, most notably for BCG, is increasing. This refers to the immunomodulatory capabilities of vaccines to influence immune outcomes beyond inducing protective immunity against the vaccine’s specific targeted disease. There is limited evidence for these effects in neonates, particularly for HBV. The research reported in this thesis aimed to explore the influence of BCG, HBV and concurrent administration of both vaccines at birth on the neonatal immune responses to unrelated antigens compared with unvaccinated babies in a randomised control trial (RCT): The Early Life Vaccine and Immunity Study (ELVIS). Neonatal blood samples from 128 participants, collected seven days after randomisation, were stimulated with various unrelated antigens for 20 hours. Cytokine responses, measured in the supernatants by an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) method, were analysed using non-parametric statistical tests to determine differences in median responses between the four groups: BCG alone, HBV alone, concurrent BCG and HBV and the unvaccinated control group. I found minimal differences in the median in vitro cytokine responses to all stimulants between the four groups. However, both vaccines independently influenced cytokine-stimulant responses. Effects on responses were strongest for BCG-vaccinated babies, but only decreased interferon gamma (IFN-gamma) responses to the Toll-like receptor (TLR) ligand resiquimod (R848) and monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1) responses to heat-inactivated E. coli were significantly different from controls. Combined vaccines tended to induce similar cytokine-stimulant response patterns as BCG alone, although for some cytokine-stimulant pairs, the BCG-induced effects were mitigated by HBV and vice versa. This study adds to the evidence for NSEs of vaccines in neonates. It is the first study to investigate the influence of HBV immunisation on immune responses to unrelated antigens, finding no statistically significant differences in median cytokine responses compared with controls. The finding that concurrent vaccination with HBV and BCG at birth induced the same cytokine-stimulant response pattern as BCG alone, suggested that cytokine responses to unrelated stimulants are driven by BCG. This is also the first study to show that in neonates concurrent HBV and BCG vaccination at birth weakens the NSEs of BCG for certain cytokine-stimulant pairs. Further research into neonatal vaccine NSEs are warranted. Future studies should explore and further investigate the clinical relevance of certain cytokine-stimulant response signatures identified in my thesis and the mechanism for these observations in neonates. These results will direct research on how we could potentially exploit any beneficial vaccine NSEs to provide protection against infection in the very young.
KeywordsBCG; Bacille Calmette-Guerin; Hepatitis B vaccine; vaccine; neonate; immunity; cytokines; non specific effects
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