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mRNA vaccine technologies introduced following the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic have highlighted the need to better understand the interaction of adjuvants and the early innate immune response. Type I interferon (IFN-I) is an integral part of this early innate response that primes several components of the adaptive immune response. Women are widely reported to respond better than men to tri- and quadrivalent influenza vaccines. Plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) are the primary cell type responsible for IFN-I production, and female pDCs produce more IFN-I than male pDCs since the upstream pattern recognition receptor Toll-like receptor 7 (TLR7) is encoded by X chromosome and is biallelically expressed by up to 30% of female immune cells. Additionally, the TLR7 promoter contains several putative androgen response elements, and androgens have been reported to suppress pDC IFN-I in vitro. Unexpectedly, therefore, we recently observed that male adolescents mount stronger antibody responses to the Pfizer BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine than female adolescents after controlling for natural SARS-CoV-2 infection. We here examined pDC behaviour in this same cohort to determine the impact of IFN-I on anti-spike and anti-receptor-binding domain IgG titres to BNT162b2. Through flow cytometry and least absolute shrinkage and selection operator (LASSO) modelling, we determined that serum-free testosterone was associated with reduced pDC IFN-I, but contrary to the well-described immunosuppressive role for androgens, the most bioactive androgen dihydrotestosterone was associated with increased IgG titres to BNT162b2. Also unexpectedly, we observed that co-vaccination with live attenuated influenza vaccine boosted the magnitude of IgG responses to BNT162b2. Together, these data support a model where systemic IFN-I increases vaccine-mediated immune responses, yet for vaccines with intracellular stages, modulation of the local IFN-I response may alter antigen longevity and consequently improve vaccine-driven immunity.

Original publication




Journal article


Front Immunol

Publication Date





adolescent vaccination, androgen, immune sex difference, plasmacytoid dendritic cell, type I interferon, Humans, Male, Female, Adolescent, Interferon-alpha, Influenza Vaccines, Toll-Like Receptor 7, Androgens, BNT162 Vaccine, mRNA Vaccines, Interferon Type I, Vaccination, Dendritic Cells, Immunoglobulin G