Adenovirus activates complement by distinctly different mechanisms in vitro and in vivo: Indirect complement activation by virions in vivo

Jie Tian, Zhili Xu, Jeffrey S. Smith, Sean E. Hofherr, Michael A. Barry, Andrew P. Byrnes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

64 Scopus citations


Understanding innate immunity is key to improving the safety of adenovirus (Ad) vectors for systemic gene therapy. Ad has been shown to activate complement in vitro, but activation of complement after Ad injection in vivo has not been directly measured. Using complement protein C3a as a marker of complement activation, we show that types 2 and 5 human Ads cause rapid complement activation after intravenous injection in mice. Unexpectedly, the mechanisms in vivo were different than those in vitro. Antibodies were critical for the activation of complement by Ad in vitro, but antibodies were not required in vivo. The classical pathway was required in vitro, whereas complement activation in vivo involved both classical and nonclassical pathways as well as the reticuloendothelial system. Remarkably, the entrydeficient Ad mutant ts1 was completely unable to activate complement in vivo even though it was fully able to activate complement in vitro. This result demonstrates that the complement system senses intravenously injected Ad primarily by detecting the effects of Ad on cells rather than through direct interaction of complement with virions. Encouragingly, shielding Ad with polyethylene glycol was effective at reducing complement activation both in vitro and in vivo. In summary, intravenously injected Ad rapidly activates complement through multiple pathways, but these pathways are different than those identified by in vitro studies. In vitro studies are poorly predictive of in vivo mechanisms because Ad virions activate complement through indirect mechanisms in vivo.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5648-5658
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 1 2009


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology

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