Okinawa: According to Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology researchers, gut bacteria that break down a sugar called fucose may be suppressing our immune response to the Covid-19 mRNA vaccine (OIST).
The findings of the study published in Communications Biology.
Increased fucose digestion by gut bacteria prior to vaccination was linked to fewer T-cells activated by vaccination. T-cells are a type of blood immune cell that is activated by a specific strain of bacteria or virus and then multiplies in order to fight the infection. The study illustrates the important impact that the trillions of bacteria in our gut -- collectively called our 'gut microbiome'-- have on our immune health and adds a missing piece to the puzzle of why vaccination varies in effectiveness from person to person.
"Not everyone who gets the same vaccine receives an equal level of protection, but we still don't really understand why people respond so differently," said Professor Hiroki Ishikawa, who leads the OIST Immune Signal Unit, adding, "If we can get to the bottom of what causes this variation, we could predict how an individual might respond to a vaccine, and perhaps find new strategies to promote the immune response."
While this research focused on the response to the Covid-19 Pfizer mRNA vaccine, the researchers believe their results could also be relevant for other mRNA vaccines in development that protect against other infectious diseases, and even cancer.
In this study, Prof. Ishikawa and his colleagues took a stool sample and multiple blood samples from 96 healthy participants living in Okinawa, starting before the first dose of the vaccine, and ending a month after the second dose.
They then did a broad analysis, looking at all the genes from immune cells in the blood and bacteria in the gut to see if there was any association with an individual's T-cell and antibody levels.
The researchers did not find a significant link to antibody levels, but they did find that individuals that had a lower T-cell response also had a gut microbiome with a high activity of fucose digestion.
The team also found that individuals with a reduced T-cell response had higher expression of two genes, FOS and ATF3, prior to vaccination. These genes are expressed by blood immune cells, and code for proteins that are part of a larger group, called AP-1 transcription factors. Previous research has shown that different AP-1 transcription factors control T-cell survival and activity, but the exact role and function of these two proteins remains unknown.
Individuals with higher expression of FOS and ATF3 prior to vaccination also had microbiomes with high activity of fucose digestion, suggesting that the gut's impact on the immune system is through a pathway that involves FOS and ATF3.