Boosting of vaginal HSV-2-specific B and T cell responses by intravaginal therapeutic immunization results in diminished recurrent HSV-2 disease

Nigel Bourne, Celeste A. Keith, Aaron L. Miller, Richard B. Pyles, Gary Cohen, Gregg N. Milligan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Boosting herpes simplex virus (HSV)-specific immunity in the genital tissues of HSV-positive individuals to increase control of HSV-2 recurrent disease and virus shedding is an important goal of therapeutic immunization and would impact HSV-2 transmission. Experimental therapeutic HSV-2 vaccines delivered by a parenteral route have resulted in decreased recurrent disease in experimental animals. We used a guinea pig model of HSV-2 infection to test if HSV-specific antibody and cell-mediated responses in the vaginal mucosa would be more effectively increased by intravaginal (Ivag) therapeutic immunization compared to parenteral immunization. Therapeutic immunization with HSV glycoproteins and CpG adjuvant increased glycoprotein-specific IgG titers in vaginal secretions and serum to comparable levels in Ivag- and intramuscular (IM)-immunized animals. However, the mean numbers of HSV glycoprotein-specific antibody secreting cells (ASCs) and IFN-γ SCs were greater in Ivag-immunized animals demonstrating superior boosting of immunity in the vaginal mucosa compared to parenteral immunization. Therapeutic Ivag immunization also resulted in a significant decrease in the cumulative mean lesion days compared to IM immunization. There was no difference in the incidence or magnitude of HSV-2 shedding in either therapeutic immunization group compared to control-treated animals. Collectively, these data demonstrated that Ivag therapeutic immunization was superior compared to parenteral immunization to boost HSV-2 antigen-specific ASC and IFN-γ SC responses in the vagina and control recurrent HSV-2 disease. These results suggest that novel antigen delivery methods providing controlled release of optimized antigen/adjuvant combinations in the vaginal mucosa would be an effective approach for therapeutic HSV vaccines. IMPORTANCE HSV-2 replicates in skin cells before it infects sensory nerve cells where it establishes a lifelong but mostly silent infection. HSV-2 occasionally reactivates, producing new virus which is released back at the skin surface and may be transmitted to new individuals. Some HSV-specific immune cells reside at the skin site of the HSV-2 infection that can quickly activate and clear new virus. Immunizing people already infected with HSV-2 to boost their skin-resident immune cells and rapidly control the new HSV-2 infection is logical, but we do not know the best way to administer the vaccine to achieve this goal. In this study, a therapeutic vaccine given intravaginally resulted in significantly better protection against HSV-2 disease than immunization with the same vaccine by a conventional route. Immunization by the intravaginal route resulted in greater stimulation of vaginal-resident, virus-specific cells that produced antibody and produced immune molecules to rapidly clear virus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2023


  • HSV-2
  • guinea pig
  • recurrent HSV-2 disease
  • therapeutic vaccine
  • vaginal mucosa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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