The high prevalence of human anti-Ad5 Abs, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, suggests that administration of Ad5-based vectors will likely lead both to antibody neutralization and a rapid, exacerbated cellular immune response in many individuals
. The practical scope of this problem was illustrated by the HIV-STEP trial, the first clinical trial aimed towards eliciting vaccine-induced cellular HIV immunity in humans. In participants with high initial anti-Ad5 antibody titers, the vaccine appeared to have increased HIV infection
. As HIV vaccine trials are now underway in children
, it is important to determine at what age Ad NAbs become more prevalent. However, few studies on the seroprevalence of NAbs to Ad5 or other serotypes in pediatric populations, especially infants, have been published to date. Previous studies indicated that Ad5 NAb titers are low in young children, and immunity to Ad5 vector is age-dependent
[9, 14]. However, a recent international epidemiological study of several Ad types reported a high Ad5 seroprevalence (65.9%) and correspondingly high-titer NAbs (titers > 1000) (43.2%) in children of South Africa
. In China, only one prior study in Guangdong demonstrated that 77.9% (28/36) of the participants were seropositive for Ad5 NAbs
. Our data showed that the seroprevalence of Ad5 NAbs in northeast China was apparently lower than that that in southern China, especially for the high-titer NAbs (18.8% vs. 30.6%), indicating that the anti-Ad5 titers may vary by geographic location.
In all 6 subgroups of Ad serotypes, Ad1, 2, 5 and 6 from subgroup C have been demonstrated to be more seroprevalent than serotypes in other subgroups
[7, 8]. Our current observations of the seroprevalence of Ad2 NAbs in China confirmed and extended the findings of prior studies. Pre-existing immunity to Ad can include both neutralizing antibodies, as well as Ad-specific T cell responses, as recent studies have highlighted a critical role for CD8+ T cells in pre-existing anti-Ad immunity
[20–22]. It should also be noted that the magnitude and phenotype of cellular immune responses elicited by Ads may be cross-reactive. Considering the possibility of cross-reactivity within the same subgroup which may lead to a high seroprevalence of Ad even in infants or young children, our analysis of Ad2/5 NAb titers suggests that the approach of combining different Ad vaccine vectors for heterologous priming or constructing chimeric Ad vectors to overcome pre-existing immunity will need to be carefully designed.
High titer of Ad5 NAbs have been shown to suppress the immunogenicity of rAd5 vector-based vaccines for HIV-1 in both preclinical studies
[5, 23] and clinical trials
[6, 24, 25]. In this study, significant differences in Ad antibody titers were monitored by performing univariate analysis of the association of age with moderate and high Ad2 and Ad5 titers. The levels of moderate and high Ad2 and Ad5 NAbs in children showed an age-dependent increase along with Ad-specific immunity, with 7-12-month-old infants having the lowest levels of anti-Ad immunity. We also found that samples from the youngest infants (0–6 months), even from seven newborn infants (< 3 days), had moderate and high titers of Ad2 and Ad5 NAbs. These results are consistent with prior studies showing that the pediatric population harbors anti-Ad titers at birth due to passively acquired maternal Abs which substantial decline by 6 months of age
[8, 9] but then drastically increase again after 18 months of age
. In the present study, NAbs for the Ad2 serotype were shown to increase markedly even after 12 months of age (Figure
2 and Table
1). These results indicate that adenovirus-based therapies may not be suitable for children above 12 months and below 6 months of age. These findings also suggest that before using Ad-based vaccines in a specific region, a thorough serological survey of NAbs for different Ad types in pediatric populations should be carried out, since pre-existing immunity may result in adverse inflammatory responses
In summary, the seroepidemiological assessment conducted in this study revealed an interesting age-dependent association of anti-Ad2 and Ad5 NAbs in pediatric populations in northeast China, Thus, potentially high NAb titers to Ad in newborns or older children (>12 months) should be taken into consideration when designing Ad-based vaccines, while children of the 7-12-month age range with relatively low Ad-specific immuity may benefit the most from such vaccines.