Frontiers in Immunology (May 2021)

A Sensitive Whole Blood Assay Detects Antigen-Stimulated Cytokine Release From CD4+ T Cells and Facilitates Immunomonitoring in a Phase 2 Clinical Trial of Nexvax2 in Coeliac Disease

  • Melinda Y. Hardy,
  • Melinda Y. Hardy,
  • Gautam Goel,
  • Amy K. Russell,
  • Amy K. Russell,
  • Swee Lin G. Chen Yi Mei,
  • Gregor J. E. Brown,
  • Suyue Wang,
  • Evan Szymczak,
  • Ruan Zhang,
  • Kaela E. Goldstein,
  • Kristin M. Neff,
  • Leslie J. Williams,
  • Kenneth E. Truitt,
  • John L. Dzuris,
  • Jason A. Tye-Din,
  • Jason A. Tye-Din,
  • Jason A. Tye-Din,
  • Robert P. Anderson

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 12


Read online

Improved blood tests assessing the functional status of rare gluten-specific CD4+ T cells are needed to effectively monitor experimental therapies for coeliac disease (CD). Our aim was to develop a simple, but highly sensitive cytokine release assay (CRA) for gluten-specific CD4+ T cells that did not require patients to undergo a prior gluten challenge, and would be practical in large, multi-centre clinical trials. We developed an enhanced CRA and used it in a phase 2 clinical trial (“RESET CeD”) of Nexvax2, a peptide-based immunotherapy for CD. Two participants with treated CD were assessed in a pilot study prior to and six days after a 3-day gluten challenge. Dye-dilution proliferation in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) was assessed, and IL-2, IFN-γ and IL-10 were measured by multiplex electrochemiluminescence immunoassay (ECL) after 24-hour gluten-peptide stimulation of whole blood or matched PBMC. Subsequently, gluten-specific CD4+ T cells in blood were assessed in a subgroup of the RESET CeD Study participants who received Nexvax2 (maintenance dose 900 μg, n = 12) or placebo (n = 9). The pilot study showed that gluten peptides induced IL-2, IFN-γ and IL-10 release from PBMCs attributable to CD4+ T cells, but the PBMC CRA was substantially less sensitive than whole blood CRA. Only modest gluten peptide-stimulated IL-2 release could be detected without prior gluten challenge using PBMC. In contrast, whole blood CRA enabled detection of IL-2 and IFN-γ before and after gluten challenge. IL-2 and IFN-γ release in whole blood required more than 6 hours incubation. Delay in whole blood incubation of more than three hours from collection substantially reduced antigen-stimulated IL-2 and IFN-γ secretion. Nexvax2, but not placebo treatment in the RESET CeD Study was associated with significant reductions in gluten peptide-stimulated whole blood IL-2 and IFN-γ release, and CD4+ T cell proliferation. We conclude that using fresh whole blood instead of PBMC substantially enhances cytokine secretion stimulated by gluten peptides, and enables assessment of rare gluten-specific CD4+ T cells without requiring CD patients to undertake a gluten challenge. Whole blood assessment coupled with ultra-sensitive cytokine detection shows promise in the monitoring of rare antigen-specific T cells in clinical studies.