The magnitude of immune responses to vaccination is a critical factor in determining protection from disease. It is known that cigarette smoke dampens the immune system and increases the risk of vaccine-preventable diseases. We reported that nicotine, the immunosuppressive component of cigarette smoke, disrupts the differentiation and functional properties of DC, which are pivotal in the initiation of immune response to vaccines. We also reported that TLR agonists act in synergy and boost DC maturation, DC-NK crosstalk and ultimately naïve T cell polarization into effector Th1 and Tc1 cells. Here, we investigated whether the combination of TLR agonists could diminish the degrading effects of nicotine on DC-NK mediated effector T cell generation.
We found that none of TLR agonists, single or combined, were able to diminish completely the adverse effects of nicotine on DC. However, TLR3, TLR4, and TLR8 agonists acted as the most effective adjuvants to increase the expression levels of antigen-presenting, costimulatory molecules and production of cytokines by nicotine-exposed DC (nicDC). When combined, TLR3 + 8 and TLR4 + 8 synergistically optimized nicDC maturation and IFN-γ secretion from nicotine-exposed NK (nicNK) during co-cultures. Interestingly, in contrast to DC-NK-T, co-cultures of nicDC-nicNK-T treated with TLR3 + 8 or TLR4 + 8 agonists produced a similar frequency of effector memory Th1 and Tc1 cells. However, the effector cells from TLR4 + 8 followed by TLR3 + 8 treated nicDC-nicNK-T co-cultures produced significantly more IFN-γ when compared with aluminum salt treated co-culture. Our data suggest that addition of appropriate TLR agonists to vaccine formulation could potentially augment the immune response to vaccination in smokers.