BACKGROUND: Results from recent clinical studies suggest potential efficacy of immune training (IT)-based approaches for protection against severe lower respiratory tract infections in infants, but underlying mechanisms are unclear.
OBJECTIVE: We used systems-level analyses to elucidate IT mechanisms in infants in a clinical trial setting.
METHODS: Pre- and posttreatment peripheral blood mononuclear cells from a placebo-controlled trial in which winter treatment with the IT agent OM85 reduced infant respiratory infection frequency and/or duration were stimulated for 24 hours with the virus/bacteria mimics polyinosinic:polycytidylic acid/lipopolysaccharide. Transcriptomic profiling via RNA sequencing, pathway and upstream regulator analyses, and systems-level gene coexpression network analyses were used sequentially to elucidate and compare responses in treatment and placebo groups.
RESULTS: In contrast to subtle changes in antivirus-associated polyinosinic:polycytidylic acid response profiles, the bacterial lipopolysaccharide-triggered gene coexpression network responses exhibited OM85 treatment-associated upregulation of IFN signaling. This was accompanied by network rewiring resulting in increased coordination of TLR4 expression with IFN pathway-associated genes (especially master regulator IRF7); segregation of TNF and IFN-γ (which potentially synergize to exaggerate inflammatory sequelae) into separate expression modules; and reduced size/complexity of the main proinflammatory network module (containing, eg, IL-1,IL-6, and CCL3). Finally, we observed a reduced capacity for lipopolysaccharide-induced inflammatory cytokine (eg, IL-6 and TNF) production in the OM85 group.
CONCLUSION: These changes are consistent with treatment-induced enhancement of bacterial pathogen detection/clearance capabilities concomitant with enhanced capacity to regulate ensuing inflammatory response intensity and duration. We posit that IT agents exemplified by OM85 potentially protect against severe lower respiratory tract infections in infants principally by effects on innate immune responses targeting the bacterial components of the mixed respiratory viral/bacterial infections that are characteristic of this age group.