An increase in antimycobacterial Th1-cell responses by prime-boost protocols of immunization does not enhance protection against tuberculosis.
Bordetella pertussis adenylate cyclase (CyaA) toxoid is a powerful nonreplicative immunization vector targeting dendritic cells, which has already been used successfully in prophylactic and therapeutic vaccination in various preclinical animal models. Here, we investigated the potential of CyaA, harboring strong mycobacterial immunogens, i.e., the immunodominant regions of antigen 85A or the complete sequence of the 6-kDa early secreted antigenic target (ESAT-6) protein, to induce antimycobacterial immunity. By generating T-cell hybridomas or by using T cells from mice infected with mycobacteria, we first demonstrated that the in vitro delivery of 85A or ESAT-6 to antigen-presenting cells by CyaA leads to processing and presentation, by major histocompatibility complex class II molecules, of the same epitopes as those displayed upon mycobacterial infection. Importantly, compared to the recombinant protein alone, the presentation of ESAT-6 in vitro was 100 times more efficient upon its delivery to antigen-presenting cells in fusion to CyaA. Immunization with CyaA-85A or CyaA-ESAT-6 in the absence of any adjuvant induced strong antigen-specific lymphoproliferative, interleukin-2 (IL-2) and gamma interferon (IFN-gamma) cytokine responses, in the absence of any IL-4 or IL-5 production. When used as boosters after priming with a BCG expressing ESAT-6, the CyaA-85A and CyaA-ESAT-6 proteins were able to strikingly increase the sensitivity and intensity of proliferative and Th1-polarized responses and notably the frequency of antigen-specific IFN-gamma-producing CD4+ T cells. However, immunization with these CyaA constructs as subunit vaccines alone or as boosters did not allow induction or improvement of protection against Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection. These results question the broadly admitted correlation between the frequency of IFN-gamma-producing CD4+ T cells and the level of protection against tuberculosis.