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A mothers love declines – a measles vaccine problem?

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Worldwide, measles virus infection accounts for around 200,000 deaths annually; the importance of which is emphasized given the availability of a highly effective vaccine. Vaccine effectiveness, however, is a complex matter and is subject to many problems – a major one being transfer of maternal antibodies to children during early life, a form of natural passive immunity. Although these antibodies are there for a reason and do protect offspring from infections in early life, bridging the gap until they can synthesize their own antibodies, they have been shown to inhibit the activity to certain vaccines – measles vaccine is an example (see figure below).

Antibody concentrations in child following birth showing decline in attenuation (infection attenuation)

During early childhood, maternal antibody concentrations begin to wane and eventually reach such a level as to offer little protection from microbial challenge. These antibodies however are able to dampen the ability of a child to develop protective immunity following vaccination; it is this ‘window of opportunity’ that is responsible for a great number of measles virus infections and fatalities every year. The development of an effective vaccination strategy to get around this blocking effect would therefore be of great medical interest.

Recently, Kim et al (2010) publish their investigations into understanding how and why measles virus infection, in the presence of specific antibody results in the inhibition of a protective response following vaccination. Prior to this study it was unknown whether in this situation, MeV-specific B cells were being generated at all or whether they simply failed to secrete neutralizing antibody. The group used a rat model of MeV infection and simulated maternal antibody effects by passively transferring MeV specific antibodies and measuring the immunological outcomes. They demonstrated that there is a specific failure of B cells to secrete protective antibody in the presence of transferred antibody.

B cells will only secrete antibody when 3 signals are triggered:

1.     B-cell receptor/antigen interactions

2.     B – cell/ T-cell interactions

3.     Action of soluble mediators (for example: cytokines like interferon)

Kim et al hypothesized that in this model, where both signals 1 and 2 were active, inhibition of antibody secretion may be accounted for by the interference with certain soluble mediators. This idea was attractive providing the great deal of evidence showing MeV obstruction of interferon production – a pathway that normally results in the robust development of innate and adaptive immune responses. This results in two major problems involving antibody-specific inhibition of protective immune responses (maternal antibody) combined with MeV’s natural ability to inhibit the development of immunity; cases which are shared during the ‘window of opportunity’.

To this effect, the group developed a novel vaccine vector to circumvent wild-type measles interferon inhibition. Using reverse-genetics technology, they incorporated a MeV antigen gene, the haemagglutinin (HN) glycoprotein into the Newcastle Disease virus (NDV) genome as an extra gene, generating NDV-HN. NDV is an avian virus that induces high concentrations of IFNs upon infection allowing for the possibility of an effective measles vaccine in the presence of measles antibody.

The investigation confirmed the group’s predictions in that NDV-HN induced much higher levels of IFN in rat tissues when compared to MeV and that this led to development of MeV-specific neutralizing antibodies in the presence of transferred antibody. This work further verified that role that the restoration signal 3, in the form of alpha-IFN allows for B-cell secretion of antibody in in vivo and in vitro systems.

Given how medically important vaccination has been in protecting populations from often fatal and serious infectious disease and the troubles that arise when maternal antibody concentrations drop, any work developing vaccine technology to avoid these difficulties should be welcomed. Kim et al. confirmed the basis for the immunological blocks in generating MeV antibodies and began the development of a novel vector system to rationally provide protection. The results in this rat model, although not specifically applicable to the human situation, are promising in that it provides a logical framework to advance vaccine technology and prevent thousands of childhood deaths worldwide.

Kim D, Martinez-Sobrido L, Choi C, Petroff N, García-Sastre A, Niewiesk S, Carsillo T. (2011) Induction of Type I Interferon Secretion through Recombinant Newcastle Disease Virus Expressing Measles Virus Hemagglutinin Stimulates Antibody Secretion in the Presence of Maternal Antibodies. J Virol. 2011 Jan;85(1):200-7. PMID: 20962092


Written by Connor

December 17, 2010 at 10:43 pm

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  1. […] Why is SSPE incidence so high here and what can we do about it? SSPE rates are linked to measles infections in a population and hence have been significantly reduced following measles vaccination campaigns. Sadly, only half of children in Papua New Guinea receive two measles vaccines prior to 1st birthday – not enough to sufficiently protect an individual nor a population from measles infection and hence SSPE; there is insufficiently low-level of herd immunity in regions such as papua New Guinea. The level of vaccine effectiveness of measles vaccine in this region is also particularly low – possibly reflecting damage to the vaccine from cold-chain disruption (in tropical climates it is difficult to keep vaccines refrigerated), population genetic effects or persistence of low-level non-neutralising maternal antibody. […]

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