Cellular and humoral immune responses induced by intradermal or intramuscular vaccination with the major hepatitis B surface antigen



The vaccination route may influence the success of immunization against pathogens. The conventional intramuscular (i.m.) application of a vaccine containing the hepatitis B virus (HBV) surface antigen (HBsAg) led to protective anti-HBs antibody levels in the majority of vaccine recipients. In this study, we vaccinated healthy volunteers and a group of i.m. vaccine nonresponders via the intradermal (i.d.) route and analyzed the HBV-specific B-cell response as well as class-II– and class-I–restricted T-cell responses by 3H-thymidine uptake, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and enzyme-linked immunospot assay (ELISPOT). The results were then compared with i.m. vaccinated controls. I.d. vaccinations were well tolerated and induced neutralizing anti-HBs antibodies in all naive vaccine recipients and, importantly, all but one former i.m. nonresponder developed protective anti-HBs serum antibody levels after 2 or 3 i.d. immunizations. On the cellular level, i.d. vaccine recipients showed significantly higher anti-HBs producing B-cell frequencies and more vigorous class-II–restricted T-helper (Th) cell responses than i.m. controls. However, although the HBsAg-specific T cells were characterized by their cytokine release as Th1-like cells in both groups, human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-A2+ individuals who received the soluble HBsAg via the i.d. route developed higher peptide-specific cytotoxic CD8+ T cell precursor (CTLp) frequencies. In conclusion, i.d. HBsAg vaccination is more effective even in former i.m. vaccine nonresponders with respect to antibody induction and specific B- and T-cell responses. The induction of virus-specific CTLp may provide the rationale to study the i.d. HBsAg vaccine in the treatment of chronic hepatitis B.