Hassett, Daniel E. Department of Veterinary Pathobiology and Laboratory for Infectious Disease Research, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri.
- Conventional vaccines
- Nucleic acid vaccines
- Improving the physical delivery of DNA
- Increasing the expression and processing of DNA-encoded antigens
- Modulating the immune response
- Safety concerns associated with DNA vaccination
- Future of DNA vaccines
- Links to Primary Literature
- Additional Readings
Vaccination has proven to be one of the cheapest and most effective defenses against infectious diseases. However, most vaccines are composed of proteins, and proteins are very sensitive to changes in temperature. In the 1990s, investigators made a surprising observation that led to a revolution in the way that vaccines are thought about and designed. Specifically, when mice were injected intramuscularly with plasmid DNA, genes on the plasmid could be expressed in the host's muscle tissues. Plasmids are small autonomously replicating circular pieces of bacterial DNA that are easy to manipulate and purify. Scientists have been genetically engineering plasmids for decades to develop tools to understand how genes and their RNA and protein products function in living cells. What was surprising was the ability of mammalian muscle cells to take up and express these foreign bits of DNA. Subsequent studies have shown that the expression of foreign genes following injection with plasmid DNA can provoke the body's immune system to mount both antibody and T-cell (T-lymphocyte) responses to the foreign proteins (antigens) expressed by the plasmid. This led to the birth of a completely new field of vaccine research that has been variously termed DNA, nucleic acid, or genetic vaccination.
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