Rabies, as one of the most threatening zoonoses in the world, causes a fatal central nervous system (CNS) disease. So far, vaccination with rabies vaccines has been the most effective measure to prevent and control this disease. At present, inactivated rabies vaccines are widely used in humans and domestic animals. However, humoral immune responses induced by inactivated rabies vaccines are relatively low and multiple shots are required to achieve protective immunity. Supplementation with an adjuvant is a practical way to improve the immunogenicity of inactivated rabies vaccines. In this study, we found that monophosphoryl-lipid A (MPLA), a well-known TLR4 agonist, could significantly promote the maturation of bone marrow-derived dendritic cells (BMDC) through a TLR4-dependent pathway in vitro and the maturation of conventional DCs (cDCs) in vivo. We also found that MPLA, serving as an adjuvant for inactivated rabies vaccines, could significantly facilitate the generation of T follicular helper (Tfh) cells, germinal center (GC) B cells, and plasma cells (PCs), consequently enhancing the production of RABV-specific total-IgG, IgG2a, IgG2b, and the virus-neutralizing antibodies (VNAs). Furthermore, MPLA could increase the survival ratio of mice challenged with virulent RABV. In conclusion, our results demonstrate that MPLA serving as an adjuvant enhances the intensity of humoral immune responses by activating the cDC–Tfh–GC B axis. Our findings will contribute to the improvement of the efficiency of traditional rabies vaccines.
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