Abstract

The emergency use authorization of two mRNA vaccines in less than a year since the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 represents a landmark in vaccinology1,2. Yet, how mRNA vaccines stimulate the immune system to elicit protective immune responses is unknown. Here we used a systems vaccinology approach to comprehensively profile the innate and adaptive immune responses of 56 healthy volunteers vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine. Vaccination resulted in robust production of neutralizing antibodies (nAbs) against the parent Wuhan strain and, to a lesser extent, the B.1.351 strain, and significant increases in antigen-specific polyfunctional CD4 and CD8 T cells after the second dose. Booster vaccination stimulated a strikingly enhanced innate immune response compared to primary vaccination, evidenced by a greater: (i) frequency of CD14+CD16+ inflammatory monocytes; (ii) concentration of plasma IFN-g; (iii) transcriptional signature of innate antiviral immunity. Consistent with these observations, single-cell transcriptomics analysis demonstrated a ~100-fold increase in the frequency of a myeloid cell cluster, enriched in interferon-response transcription factors (TFs) and reduced in AP-1 TFs, following secondary immunization. Finally, we identified distinct innate pathways associated with CD8 T cell and nAb responses, and show that a monocyte-related signature correlates with the nAb response against the B.1.351 variant strain. Collectively, these data provide insights into immune responses induced by mRNA vaccination and demonstrate its capacity to prime the innate immune system to mount a more potent response following booster immunization.

DOI https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03791-x

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