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BACKGROUND: There is an urgent need for improved vaccines to protect against tuberculosis. The currently available vaccine Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) has varying immunogenicity and efficacy across different populations for reasons not clearly understood. MVA85A is a modified vaccinia virus expressing antigen 85A from Mycobacterium tuberculosis which has been in clinical development since 2002 as a candidate vaccine to boost BCG-induced protection. A recent efficacy trial in South African infants failed to demonstrate enhancement of protection over BCG alone. The immunogenicity was lower than that seen in UK trials. The enzyme Indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) catalyses the first and rate-limiting step in the breakdown of the essential amino acid tryptophan. T cells are dependent on tryptophan and IDO activity suppresses T-cell proliferation and function. METHODS: Using samples collected during phase I trials with MVA85A across the UK and South Africa we have investigated the relationship between vaccine immunogenicity and IDO using IFN-γ ELISPOT, qPCR and liquid chromatography mass spectrometry. RESULTS: We demonstrate an IFN-γ dependent increase in IDO mRNA expression in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) following MVA85A vaccination in UK subjects. IDO mRNA correlates positively with the IFN-γ ELISPOT response indicating that vaccine specific induction of IDO in PBMC is unlikely to limit the development of vaccine specific immunity. IDO activity in the serum of volunteers from the UK and South Africa was also assessed. There was no change in serum IDO activity following MVA85A vaccination. However, we observed higher baseline IDO activity in South African volunteers when compared to UK volunteers. In both UK and South African serum samples, baseline IDO activity negatively correlated with vaccine-specific IFN-γ responses, suggesting that IDO activity may impair the generation of a CD4+ T cell memory response. CONCLUSIONS: Baseline IDO activity was higher in South African volunteers when compared to UK volunteers, which may represent a potential mechanism for the observed variation in vaccine immunogenicity in South African and UK populations and may have important implications for future vaccination strategies. TRIAL REGISTRATION: Trials are registered at; UK cohort NCT00427830, UK LTBI cohort NCT00456183, South African cohort NCT00460590, South African LTBI cohort NCT00480558.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC Infect Dis

Publication Date





Adult, BCG Vaccine, CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes, Enzyme-Linked Immunospot Assay, Female, Humans, Indoleamine-Pyrrole 2,3,-Dioxygenase, Interferon-gamma, Leukocytes, Mononuclear, Lymphocyte Activation, Male, Middle Aged, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, RNA, Messenger, South Africa, Tuberculosis, Tuberculosis Vaccines, United Kingdom, Vaccination, Young Adult