A critical role of Gas6/Axl signal in allergic airway responses during RSV vaccine-enhanced disease
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common virus that causes lower respiratory infections across a wide range of ages. A licensed RSV vaccine is not available because vaccination with formalin-inactivated RSV (FI-RSV) and the subsequent RSV infection cause not only insufficient induction of neutralizing antibodies but also severe allergic airway responses, termed FI-RSV vaccine-enhanced disease (FI-RSV VED). However, the underlying mechanism has not been identified, although a Th2-biased immune response is known to be a hallmark of this disease. Our previous studies have shown that growth arrest-specific 6 (Gas6)/Axl signaling leads to Th2-biased immune responses during fungus-induced allergic airway inflammation. Here, we show that Gas6/Axl signaling also leads to FI-RSV VED and partially identify the mechanism in mice. Inhibiting Gas6/Axl signaling using Gas6-deficient mice, neutralizing antibodies, and a specific inhibitor of Axl attenuated allergic airway hyperresponsiveness, including airway inflammation, goblet cell hyperplasia, and Th2 cytokine production, in addition to increasing interferon-γ levels and the production of RSV-neutralizing IgG2a in FI-RSV VED. Gas6 was produced in lymph nodes during immunization with FI-RSV. Lymph node cells derived from immunized mice produced high levels of Gas6 and Th2 cytokines, but not IFN-γ, after restimulation with RSV. Finally, we found that dendritic cells stimulated with RSV-glycoprotein (G protein) produced Gas6 and that Axl signaling suppressed DC maturation and the induction of IL-12 production by the toll-like receptor 4 agonist RSV-fusion protein. Taken together, these results indicate that RSV-G protein-induced Gas6/Axl signaling causes allergic airway responses during FI-RSV VED.