Vaccine adjuvants are compounds that enhance/prolong the immune response to a co-administered antigen. Saponins have been widely used as adjuvants for many years in several vaccines – especially for intracellular pathogens – including the recent and somewhat revolutionary malaria and shingles vaccines. In view of the immunoadjuvant potential of Q. brasiliensis saponins, the present study aimed to characterize the QB-80 saponin-rich fraction and a nanoadjuvant prepared with QB-80 and lipids (IMXQB-80). In addition, the performance of such adjuvants was examined in experimental inactivated vaccines against Zika virus (ZIKV). Analysis of QB-80 by DI-ESI-ToF by negative ion electrospray revealed over 29 saponins that could be assigned to known structures existing in their congener Q. saponaria, including the well-studied QS-21 and QS-7. The QB-80 saponins were a micrOTOF able to self-assembly with lipids in ISCOM-like nanoparticles with diameters of approximately 43 nm, here named IMXQB-80. Toxicity assays revealed that QB-80 saponins did present some haemolytical and cytotoxic potentials; however, these were abrogated in IMXQB-80 nanoparticles. Regarding the adjuvant activity, QB-80 and IMXQB-80 significantly enhanced serum levels of anti-Zika virus IgG and subtypes (IgG1, IgG2b, IgG2c) as well as neutralized antibodies when compared to an unadjuvanted vaccine. Furthermore, the nanoadjuvant IMXQB-80 was as effective as QB-80 in stimulating immune responses, yet requiring fourfold less saponins to induce the equivalent stimuli, and with less toxicity. These findings reveal that the saponin fraction QB-80, and particularly the IMXQB-80 nanoadjuvant, are safe and capable of potentializing immune responses when used as adjuvants in experimental ZIKV vaccines.
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