Introduction The most widely used protocol for the induction of experimental allergic airway inflammation in mice involves sensitization by intraperitoneal (i.p.) injections of the antigen ovalbumin (OVA) used in conjunction with the adjuvant aluminium hydroxide (alum). Although adjuvants are frequently used, there are questions regarding the necessity of alum for murine asthma studies due to the non-physiological nature of this chemical.
Objective The objective of this study was to compare experimental asthma phenotypes between adjuvant and adjuvant-free protocols of murine allergic airway inflammation in an attempt to develop a standardized alternative to adjuvant use.
Method An adjuvant-free OVA model of experimental asthma was investigated in BALB/c mice using i.p. or subcutaneous (s.c.) sensitization routes. For the s.c. sensitization, β-galactosidase (β-gal) was also tested as an antigen. In addition, OVA adjuvant and adjuvant-free sensitization protocols were compared in BALB/c and C57BL/6 mice. Open-field testing was performed to assess the effect of alum on mouse behaviour.
Results Comparison of adjuvant vs. adjuvant-free and i.p. vs. s.c. protocols revealed that both adjuvant use and route of antigen application significantly influenced OVA-specific antibody production. Comparison of adjuvant and adjuvant-free protocols in this study clearly demonstrated the non-requirement of alum for the induction of acute allergic airway inflammation, as both protocols induce a similar disease phenotype. BALB/c mice were significantly more susceptible than C57BL/6 mice to sensitization. Using the improved s.c. adjuvant-free protocol, it was demonstrated that alternative antigens such as β-gal can also be utilized. Behavioural studies indicated severe distress in mice treated with alum.
Conclusion The OVA s.c. adjuvant-free protocol used in this study generates a phenotype comparable to the benchmark adjuvant protocol widely used in the literature. The adjuvant-free alternative avoids the added complication of non-physiological adjuvants that may interfere with asthma treatment or prevention strategies.