Investigators at the Baylor Institute for Immunology Research in Dallas, Texas, and the Benaroya Research Institute (BRI) in Seattle, Washington, have used systems immunology and genome-wide profiling to characterize the immune responses elicited by two popular vaccines. They also developed interactive, web-based figures and data exploration tools to share their findings with the broader scientific community. This NIAID-funded work, described online in the April 18, 2013, issue of Immunity, not only provides new insights into how vaccines confer protective immunity, but also demonstrates the potential of web technologies in disseminating the large amounts of data generated by systems immunology research.
Vaccines provide a safe and efficient means of preventing infectious diseases, yet little is known about how they elicit protective responses. In the study, healthy adult volunteers were randomly assigned to receive a seasonal influenza vaccine, a pneumococcal vaccine, or saline injections (to establish a non-vaccinated control group). Researchers collected blood from the volunteers at different time points, starting a week before they received the injections and ending after 28 days.
A team led by BRI’s Damien Chaussabel, Ph.D., then analyzed gene profiles in the blood samples and compared immune responses to the vaccines at different time intervals.
Both vaccines trigger innate and adaptive immunity that eventually leads to protective antibody responses. However, the scientists identified significant differences between the individual responses to the two vaccines.
The innate, or early, response to influenza vaccination is dominated by genes associated with interferon, a protein produced by immune cells to disrupt the replication of viruses. In comparison, the early response to pneumococcal vaccination is dominated by genes associated with inflammation and tissue damage. The adaptive, or late, response to the pneumococcal vaccine was found to be significantly greater and longer lasting than that of the influenza vaccine.
The study provides new clues about how these vaccines activate the immune system to protect from disease. These insights can help inform the design of vaccines for other infectious diseases and better define when vaccine boosters, or adjuvants, may be needed to improve protection in certain groups, such as the elderly.
The study also highlights how emerging web technologies can facilitate the sharing and exploration of data generated by systems immunology research. The investigators developed interactive, web-based figures to allow others to mine and interpret the findings. Their goal was to not only improve the transparency of the research, but also to share the large amount of data they generated with other scientists so that additional hypotheses could be generated and tested.
For example, the web applications developed by the researchers allows other investigators to dynamically add variables or change parameters for a given figure and graph any primary data from the study. Users also can fine-tune their views of the data based on their own research interests and export and share these views directly from the site using email or the social networking tool Google+.
According to Dr. Chaussabel, he and his team plan to conduct additional systems immunology studies to learn more about how vaccines work. They also will continue to develop web-based applications in hopes of accelerating research discoveries and establishing a more open and transparent model for scientific publishing.
Obermoser G et al. Systems Scale Interactive Exploration Reveals Quantitative and Qualitative Differences in Response to Influenza and Pneumococcal Vaccines. Immunity DOI: 10.1016/j.immuni.2012.12.008, (2013).
To access the interactive figures from the study, visit http://interactivefigures.com.
Last Updated February 28, 2013