Although the well-known Toll like receptor 9 agonist CpGODN has shown promising results as vaccine adjuvant in preclinical and clinical studies, its in vivo stability and potential systemic toxicity remain a concern. In an effort to circumvent these issues, different strategies have been employed to increase its stability, localise action and reduce dosage. These include conjugation of CpGODN with proteins or encapsulation/adsorption of CpGODN into/onto liposomes, and have resulted in enhanced immunopotency compared to co-administration of free CpGODN and antigen.
Here, we designed a novel delivery system of CpGODN based on its conjugation to serve as anchor for liposomes. Thiol-maleimide chemistry was utilised to covalently ligate the Group B Streptococcus (GBS) GBS67 protein antigen with the CpGODN TLR9 agonist. This treatment did not alter protein's ability to be recognised by specific antibodies or the CpGODN to function as a TLR9 agonist. Due to its negative charge, the protein conjugate readily electrostatically bound cationic liposomes composed of 1, 2-distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine (DSPC), cholesterol and dimethyldioctadecylammonium bromide (DDA). The novel cationic liposomes-protein conjugate complex (GBS67-CpGODN+L) shared similar vesicle characteristics (size and charge) compared to free liposomes but exhibited different structure and morphology. Following intramuscular immunisation, GBS67-CpGODN+L formed a vaccine depot at the injection site and induced a remarkable increase of functional immune responses against GBS compared to the simple co-administration of GBS67, CpGODN and liposomes. This work demonstrates that the conjugation of CpGODN to GBS67 in conjunction with adsorption on cationic liposomes, can promote co-delivery leading to the induction of a multifaceted immune response at low antigen and CpGODN doses. Our findings highlight the potential for harnessing the immunostimulatory properties of different adjuvants to develop more effective nanostructure-based vaccine platforms.