Publications & Posters

IL-1 and IL-1ra are key regulators of the inflammatory response to RNA vaccines

Nature Immunology | March 24, 2022

Tahtinen S, Tong AJ, Himmels P, Oh J, Paler-Martinez A, Kim L, Wichner S, Oei Y, McCarron MJ, Freund EC, Amir ZA, de la Cruz CC, Haley B, Blanchette C, Schartner JM, Ye W, Yadav M, Sahin U, Delamarre L and Mellman I

Nat Immunol. 2022


The use of lipid-formulated RNA vaccines for cancer or COVID-19 is associated with dose-limiting systemic inflammatory responses in humans that were not predicted from preclinical studies. Here, we show that the ‘interleukin 1 (IL-1)–interleukin 1 receptor antagonist (IL-1ra)’ axis regulates vaccine-mediated systemic inflammation in a host-specific manner. In human immune cells, RNA vaccines induce production of IL-1 cytokines, predominantly IL-1β, which is dependent on both the RNA and lipid formulation. IL-1 in turn triggers the induction of the broad spectrum of pro-inflammatory cytokines (including IL-6). Unlike humans, murine leukocytes respond to RNA vaccines by upregulating anti-inflammatory IL-1ra relative to IL-1 (predominantly IL-1α), protecting mice from cytokine-mediated toxicities at >1,000-fold higher vaccine doses. Thus, the IL-1 pathway plays a key role in triggering RNA vaccine-associated innate signaling, an effect that was unexpectedly amplified by certain lipids used in vaccine formulations incorporating N1-methyl-pseudouridine-modified RNA to reduce activation of Toll-like receptor signaling.