In vitro cytokine induction by TLR-activating vaccine adjuvants in human blood varies by age and adjuvant

Simon D. van Haren, Lakshmi Ganapathi, Ilana Bergelson, David J. Dowling, Michaela Banks, Ronald C. Samuels, Steven G. Reed, Jason D. Marshall, Ofer Levy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Most infections occur in early life, prompting development of novel adjuvanted vaccines to protect newborns and infants. Several Toll-like receptor (TLR) agonists (TLRAs) are components of licensed vaccine formulations or are in development as candidate adjuvants. However, the type and magnitude of immune responses to TLRAs may vary with the TLR activated as well as age and geographic location. Most notably, in newborns, as compared to adults, the immune response to TLRAs is polarized with lower Th1 cytokine production and robust Th2 and anti-inflammatory cytokine production. The ontogeny of TLR-mediated cytokine responses in international cohorts has been reported, but no study has compared cytokine responses to TLRAs between U.S. neonates and infants at the age of 6 months. Both are critical age groups for the currently pediatric vaccine schedule. In this study, we report quantitative differences in the production of a panel of 14 cytokines and chemokines after in vitro stimulation of newborn cord blood and infant and adult peripheral blood with agonists of TLR4, including monophosphoryl lipid A (MPLA) and glucopyranosyl lipid Adjuvant aqueous formulation (GLA-AF), as well as agonists of TLR7/8 (R848) and TLR9 (CpG). Both TLR4 agonists, MPLA and GLA-AF, induced greater concentrations of Th1 cytokines CXCL10, TNF and Interleukin (IL)-12p70 in infant and adult blood compared to newborn blood. All the tested TLRAs induced greater infant IFN-α2 production compared to newborn and adult blood. In contrast, CpG induced greater IFN-γ, IL-1β, IL-4, IL-12p40, IL-10 and CXCL8 in newborn than in infant and adult blood. Overall, to the extent that these in vitro studies mirror responses in vivo, our study demonstrates distinct age-specific effects of TLRAs that may inform their development as candidate adjuvants for early life vaccines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-109
Number of pages11
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Adjuvant
  • Immune ontogeny
  • Infant
  • Neonate
  • Newborn
  • Toll-like receptor (TLR)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Biochemistry
  • Hematology
  • Molecular Biology


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