BCG vaccination improves DTaP immune responses in mice and is associated with lower pertussis incidence in ecological epidemiological studies

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Background The Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG), the only vaccine against tuberculosis (TB) currently in use, has shown beneficial effects against unrelated infections and to enhance immune responses to vaccines. However, there is little evidence regarding the influence of BCG vaccination on pertussis. Methods Here, we studied the ability of BCG to improve the immune responses to diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular (DTaP) or whole-cell pertussis (DTwP) vaccination in a mouse model. We included MTBVAC, an experimental live-attenuated vaccine derived from Mycobacterium tuberculosis, in our studies to explore if it presents similar heterologous immunity as BCG. Furthermore, we explored the potential effect of routine BCG vaccination on pertussis incidence worldwide. Findings We found that both BCG and MTBVAC when administered before DTaP, triggered Th1 immune responses against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis in mice. Immunization with DTaP alone failed to trigger a Th1 response, as measured by the production of IFN-γ. Humoral responses against DTaP antigens were also enhanced by previous immunization with BCG or MTBVAC. Furthermore, exploration of human epidemiological data showed that pertussis incidence was 10-fold lower in countries that use DTaP and BCG compared to countries that use only DTaP. Interpretation BCG vaccination may have a beneficial impact on the protection against pertussis conferred by DTaP. Further randomized controlled trials are needed to properly define the impact of BCG on pertussis incidence in a controlled setting. This could be a major finding that would support changes in immunization policies. Funding This work was supported by the Ministry of “Economía y Competitividad”; European Commission H2020 program, “Gobierno de Aragón”; CIBERES; “Fundação Butantan”; Instituto de Salud Carlos III and “Fondo FEDER”.
Broset E, Pardo-Seco J, Kanno AI, Aguilo N, Dacosta AI, Rivero-Calle I, et al. BCG vaccination improves DTaP immune responses in mice and is associated with lower pertussis incidence in ecological epidemiological studies. EBioMedicine. 2021 Mar;65:103254. doi:10.1016/j.ebiom.2021.103254.
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