The biological attack conducted through the U.S. postal system in 2001 broadened the threat posed by anthrax from one pertinent mainly to soldiers on the battlefield to one understood to exist throughout our society. The expansion of the threatened population placed greater emphasis on the reexamination of how we vaccinate against Bacillus anthracis. The currently-licensed Anthrax Vaccine, Adsorbed (AVA) and Anthrax Vaccine, Precipitated (AVP) are capable of generating a protective immune response but are hampered by shortcomings that make their widespread use undesirable or infeasible. Efforts to gain U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for licensure of a second generation recombinant protective antigen (rPA)-based anthrax vaccine are ongoing. However, this vaccine's reliance on the generation of a humoral immune response against a single virulence factor has led a number of scientists to conclude that the vaccine is likely not the final solution to optimal anthrax vaccine design. Other vaccine approaches, which seek a more comprehensive immune response targeted at multiple components of the B. anthracis organism, are under active investigation. This review seeks to summarize work that has been done to build on the current PA-based vaccine methodology and to evaluate the search for future anthrax prophylaxis strategies.
Bacillus anthracis; anthrax; vaccine
Environmental reservoirs are essential in the maintenance and transmission of anthrax but are poorly characterized. The anthrax agent, Bacillus anthracis was long considered an obligate pathogen that is dormant and passively transmitted in the environment. However, a growing number of laboratory studies indicate that, like some of its close relatives, B. anthracis has some activity outside of its vertebrate hosts. Here we show in the field that B. anthracis has significant interactions with a grass that could promote anthrax spore transmission to grazing hosts. Using a local, virulent strain of B. anthracis, we performed a field experiment in an enclosure within a grassland savanna. We found that B. anthracis increased the rate of establishment of a native grass (Enneapogon desvauxii) by 50% and that grass seeds exposed to blood reached heights that were 45% taller than controls. Further we detected significant effects of E. desvauxii, B. anthracis, and their interaction on soil bacterial taxa richness and community composition. We did not find any evidence for multiplication or increased longevity of B. anthracis in bulk soil associated with grass compared to controls. Instead interactions between B. anthracis and plants may result in increased host grazing and subsequently increased transmission to hosts.
Anthrax is a neglected zoonotic disease affecting livestock, wildlife, and humans in developing countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, and it occurs regularly in rural parts of North America. The causative agent of anthrax, Bacillus anthracis is transmitted by spores that persist for long periods of time in the environment. The transmission mechanisms of socioeconomically important and environmentally maintained pathogens are poorly understood, yet essential for understanding disease dynamics and devising appropriate control measures. Recent laboratory studies show that B. anthracis interacts with plants and other soil-dwelling organisms that may affect its survival and transmission. In this paper, we describe the results of a field experiment designed to test whether the interaction of B. anthracis with plants might affect its persistence and potential transmission to grazing hosts. We found that like some of its close relatives, B. anthracis promotes plant growth. Rather than simply lying in wait as a dormant spore in soil, instead B. anthracis may promote plant growth as a way of attracting hosts to graze on infectious material at carcass sites.
Aims: To evaluate potential exposure to Bacillis anthracis (Ba) spores in sampling/decontamination workers in the aftermath of an anthrax terror attack.
Methods: Fifty six serum samples were obtained from workers involved in environmental sampling for Ba spores at the American Media, Inc. (AMI) building in Boca Raton, FL after the anthrax attack there in October 2001. Nineteen sera were drawn from individuals both pre-entry and several weeks after entrance into the building. Nine sera each were drawn from unique individuals at the pre-entry and follow up blood draws. Thirteen donor control sera were also evaluated. Individuals were surveyed for Ba exposure by measurement of serum Ba anti-protective antigen (PA) specific IgG antibodies using a newly developed fluorescent covalent microsphere immunoassay (FCMIA).
Results: Four sera gave positive anti-PA IgG results (defined as anti-PA IgG concentrations ⩾ the mean µg/ml anti-PA IgG from donor control sera (n = 13 plus 2 SD which were also inhibited ⩾ 85% when the serum was pre-adsorbed with PA). The positive sera were the pre-entry and follow up samples of two workers who had received their last dose of anthrax vaccine in 2000.
Conclusion: It appears that the sampling/decontamination workers of the present study either had insufficient exposure to Ba spores to cause the production of anti-PA IgG antibodies or they were exposed to anthrax spores without producing antibody. The FCMIA appears to be a fast, sensitive, accurate, and precise method for the measurement of anti-PA IgG antibodies.
The CDC recommend 60 days of oral antibiotics combined with a three-dose series of the anthrax vaccine for prophylaxis after potential exposure to aerosolized Bacillus anthracis spores. The anthrax vaccine is currently not licensed for anthrax postexposure prophylaxis and has to be made available under an Investigational New Drug protocol. Postexposure prophylaxis based on antibiotics can be problematic in cases where the use of antibiotics is contraindicated. Furthermore, there is a concern that an exposure could involve antibiotic-resistant strains of B. anthracis. Availability of alternate treatment modalities that are effective in prophylaxis of inhalation anthrax is therefore highly desirable. A major research focus toward this end has been on passive immunization using polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies against B. anthracis toxin components. Since 2001, significant progress has been made in isolation and commercial development of monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies that function as potent neutralizers of anthrax lethal toxin in both a prophylactic and therapeutic setting. Several new products have completed Phase I clinical trials and are slated for addition to the National Strategic Stockpile. These rapid advances were possible because of major funding made available by the US government through programs such as Bioshield and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. Continued government funding is critical to support the development of a robust biodefense industry.
antibiotic treatment; biodefense funding; inhalation anthrax; lethal factor; medical countermeasures; prophylactic antibodies; protective antigen; vaccination
Bacillus anthracis causes three forms of anthrax: inhalational, gastrointestinal, and cutaneous. Anthrax is characterized by both toxemia, which is caused by secretion of immunomodulating toxins (lethal toxin and edema toxin), and septicemia, which is associated with bacterial encapsulation. Here we report that, contrary to the current view of B. anthracis pathogenesis, B. anthracis spores germinate and establish infections at the initial site of inoculation in both inhalational and cutaneous infections without needing to be transported to draining lymph nodes, and that inhaled spores establish initial infection in nasal-associated lymphoid tissues. Furthermore, we found that Peyer's patches in the mouse intestine are the primary site of bacterial growth after intragastric inoculation, thus establishing an animal model of gastrointestinal anthrax. All routes of infection progressed to the draining lymph nodes, spleen, lungs, and ultimately the blood. These discoveries were made possible through the development of a novel dynamic mouse model of B. anthracis infection using bioluminescent non-toxinogenic capsulated bacteria that can be visualized within the mouse in real-time, and demonstrate the value of in vivo imaging in the analysis of B. anthracis infection. Our data imply that previously unrecognized portals of bacterial entry demand more intensive investigation, and will significantly transform the current perception of inhalational, gastrointestinal, and cutaneous B. anthracis pathogenesis.
Anthrax is caused by Bacillus anthracis, a bacterial pathogen that forms spores, dormant bacteria that are highly resistant to destruction. Infections initiate from the introduction of spores into airways or damaged skin, or from the consumption of contaminated food. Within the host, spores germinate, then bacteria secrete toxins that cripple the immune response and sheath themselves in a capsule that prevents them from being phagocytosed. We strove to determine in real space and time where and when spores introduced by these three routes of infection germinate and how bacteria subsequently disseminate in a mouse model. This was achieved through the development of light-emitting B. anthracis that could be tracked inside a living mouse. Contrary to current models, our studies indicated that spores germinated in situ in the skin, the intestines, and the nasal passages without needing to be transported to lymph nodes. Furthermore, bacteria disseminate from initial sites of infection in a similar fashion, first to the draining lymph nodes, then the spleen, and finally the lungs and blood. These findings imply that spore interactions with local sites of entry are critical in the development of systemic disease and that disruption of these interactions may offer new methods of anthrax prevention.
Bacillus anthracis is a pathogen that causes life-threatening disease--anthrax. B. anthracis spores are highly resistant to extreme temperatures and harsh chemicals. Inactivation of B. anthracis spores is important to ensure the environmental safety and public health. The 2001 bioterrorism attack involving anthrax spores has brought acute public attention and triggered extensive research on inactivation of B. anthracis spores. Single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) as a class of emerging nanomaterial have been reported as a strong antimicrobial agent. In addition, continuous near infrared (NIR) radiation on SWCNTs induces excessive local heating which can enhance SWCNTs’ antimicrobial effect. In this study, we investigated the effects of SWCNTs coupled with NIR treatment on Bacillus anthracis spores.
Results and discussion
The results showed that the treatment of 10 μg/mL SWCNTs coupled with 20 min NIR significantly improved the antimicrobial effect by doubling the percentage of viable spore number reduction compared with SWCNTs alone treatment (88% vs. 42%). At the same time, SWCNTs-NIR treatment activated the germination of surviving spores and their dipicolinic acid (DPA) release during germination. The results suggested the dual effect of SWCNTs-NIR treatment on B. anthracis spores: enhanced the sporicidal effect and stimulated the germination of surviving spores. Molecular level examination showed that SWCNTs-NIR increased the expression levels (>2-fold) in 3 out of 6 germination related genes tested in this study, which was correlated to the activated germination and DPA release. SWCNTs-NIR treatment either induced or inhibited the expression of 3 regulatory genes detected in this study. When the NIR treatment time was 5 or 25 min, there were 3 out of 7 virulence related genes that showed significant decrease on expression levels (>2 fold decrease).
The results of this study demonstrated the dual effect of SWCNTs-NIR treatment on B. anthracis spores, which enhanced the sporicidal effect and stimulated the germination of surviving spores. SWCNTs-NIR treatment also altered the expression of germination, regulatory, and virulence-related genes in B. anthracis.
Single walled carbon nanotubes; Bacillus anthracis spores; Near infrared radiation; Germination; Dipicolinic acid; Gene expression
Anthrax, caused by Bacillus anthracis, has been brought to the public's attention because of the 2001 bioterrorism attacks. However, anthrax is a disease that poses agricultural threats in the United States as well as human populations in Europe, China, Africa, and Australia. Glycerol monolaurate (GML) is a compound that has been shown to inhibit exotoxin production by Staphylococcus aureus and other gram-positive bacteria. Here, we study the effects of GML on growth and toxin production in B. anthracis. The Sterne strain of B. anthracis was grown to post-exponential phase with 0-, 10-, 15-, or 20-μg/ml concentrations of GML and then assayed quantitatively for protective antigen (PA) and lethal factor (LF). After 8 h, GML at concentrations greater than 20 μg/ml was bacteriostatic to growth of the organism. However, a 10-μg/ml concentration of GML was not growth inhibitory, but amounts of PA and LF made were greatly reduced. This effect was not global for all proteins when total secreted protein from culture fluids was examined by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. Through quantitative reverse transcription-PCR assays, this toxin-inhibitory effect was shown to occur at the transcriptional level, since amounts of mRNA for pagA (PA), lef (LF), and cya (edema factor) were reduced. Surprisingly, mRNA levels of atxA, a regulator of exotoxin gene expression, rose in the presence of GML. These data will be useful in developing therapeutic tools to treat anthrax disease, whether in animals or humans. These results also suggest that mechanisms of virulence regulation exist independent of atxA.
Bacillus anthracis, the etiological agent of anthrax, is a spore-forming Gram-positive bacterium. Infection with this pathogen results in multisystem dysfunction and death. The pathogenicity of B. anthracis is due to the production of virulence factors, including edema toxin (ET). Recently, we established the protective role of type-IIA secreted phospholipase A2 (sPLA2-IIA) against B. anthracis. A component of innate immunity produced by alveolar macrophages (AMs), sPLA2-IIA is found in human and animal bronchoalveolar lavages at sufficient levels to kill B. anthracis. However, pulmonary anthrax is almost always fatal, suggesting the potential impairment of sPLA2-IIA synthesis and/or action by B. anthracis factors. We investigated the effect of purified ET and ET-deficient B. anthracis strains on sPLA2-IIA expression in primary guinea pig AMs. We report that ET inhibits sPLA2-IIA expression in AMs at the transcriptional level via a cAMP/protein kinase A–dependent process. Moreover, we show that live B. anthracis strains expressing functional ET inhibit sPLA2-IIA expression, whereas ET-deficient strains induced this expression. This stimulatory effect, mediated partly by the cell wall peptidoglycan, can be counterbalanced by ET. We conclude that B. anthracis down-regulates sPLA2-IIA expression in AMs through a process involving ET. Our study, therefore, describes a new molecular mechanism implemented by B. anthracis to escape innate host defense. These pioneering data will provide new molecular targets for future intervention against this deathly pathogen.
All mammals are susceptible to infection by Bacillus anthracis, the etiological agent of anthrax. Infection can occur either accidentally or as a potential consequence of a terrorism threat. Pulmonary infection is the most life-threatening form of the disease, causing a near 100% mortality. Despite appropriate therapy, all forms of infection may progress to fatal systemic anthrax, characterized by sepsis and respiratory failure. Thus, it is important to understand the mechanisms of host defense against B. anthracis. We have previously shown that alveolar macrophages produce an enzyme involved in innate defense that can kill B. anthracis: the enzyme is known as secreted phospholipase A2-IIA (sPLA2-IIA). The alveolar macrophage is one of the first cell types to come in contact with B. anthracis. In this study, we show that live B. anthracis spores stimulate the synthesis of sPLA2-IIA, this stimulation being counterbalanced by the inhibitory effect of the edema toxin produced by germinated spores and bacilli. Our study suggests that inhibition of sPLA2-IIA synthesis by edema toxin is a mechanism by which B. anthracis can escape innate host defense. These pioneering data provide new molecular targets for future intervention against this deadly pathogen.
Bacillus anthracis spores cause natural infections and are used as biological weapons. Inhalation infection with B. anthracis, the etiological agent of anthrax, is almost always lethal, yet cutaneous infections usually remain localized and resolve spontaneously. Neutrophils are typically recruited to cutaneous but seldom to other forms of anthrax infections, raising the possibility that neutrophils kill B. anthracis. In this study we infected human neutrophils with either spores or vegetative bacteria of a wild-type strain, or strains, expressing only one of the two major virulence factors. The human neutrophils engulfed B. anthracis spores, which germinated intracellularly and were then efficiently killed. Interestingly, neutrophil killing was independent of reactive oxygen species production. We fractionated a human neutrophil granule extract by high-performance liquid chromatography and identified α-defensins as the component responsible for B. anthracis killing. These data suggest that the timely recruitment of neutrophils can control cutaneous infections and possibly other forms of B. anthracis infections, and that α-defensins play an important role in the potent anti-B. anthracis activity of neutrophils.
Bacillus anthracis is the bacterium that causes anthrax, a disease that can occur through natural infections and also through intentional release. B. anthracis makes spores, which are in a dormant state, similar to seeds of a plant, and are extremely resistant to the environment. B. anthracis spores can infect through the skin or the lung. Lung infections disseminate through the body and are lethal. In contrast, skin infections often remain localized, and patients survive even without treatment. It is not well understood why these bacteria cause a localized infection through the skin and a lethal disease through the lung.
Little is known about how B. anthracis is controlled. Neutrophils are the first white blood cells recruited to a site of infection and are specialized in killing microbes. Previous studies show that neutrophils are abundant in the skin form, but not in the lung form of anthrax. The researchers report that human neutrophils can take up B. anthracis spores. Once inside, the spores germinate to form vegetative bacteria. The vegetative bacteria are extremely susceptible to neutrophil-killing mechanisms. The B. anthracis virulence factors (molecules that make bacteria cause diseases) manipulate other human cells but do not deter neutrophils. B. anthracis is indeed exquisitely sensitive to the neutrophil protein α-defensin. These data support a new model where B. anthracis skin, but not lung, infections are controlled by the antimicrobial activity of neutrophils.
Exogenous CD1d-binding glycolipid (α-Galactosylceramide, α-GC) stimulates TCR signaling and activation of type-1 natural killer–like T (NKT) cells. Activated NKT cells play a central role in the regulation of adaptive and protective immune responses against pathogens and tumors. In the present study, we tested the effect of Bacillus anthracis lethal toxin (LT) on NKT cells both in vivo and in vitro. LT is a binary toxin known to suppress host immune responses during anthrax disease and intoxicates cells by protective antigen (PA)-mediated intracellular delivery of lethal factor (LF), a potent metalloprotease. We observed that NKT cells expressed anthrax toxin receptors (CMG-2 and TEM-8) and bound more PA than other immune cell types. A sub-lethal dose of LT administered in vivo in C57BL/6 mice decreased expression of the activation receptor NKG2D by NKT cells but not by NK cells. The in vivo administration of LT led to decreased TCR-induced cytokine secretion but did not affect TCR expression. Further analysis revealed LT-dependent inhibition of TCR-stimulated MAP kinase signaling in NKT cells attributable to LT cleavage of the MAP kinase kinase MEK-2. We propose that Bacillus anthracis–derived LT causes a novel form of functional anergy in NKT cells and therefore has potential for contributing to immune evasion by the pathogen.
The bacterium Bacillus anthracis is the causative agent of anthrax infection. Anthrax is a life-threatening disease caused by inhalation or ingestion of spores, or transmission through wounds and abrasions. The bacterium secretes toxins, proteins that enter numerous cell types in an infected individual altering their function and contributing to the disease process. Consequently, we and other researchers are dedicated to identifying cells affected by anthrax toxins and to understanding the implications for the function of those cells. We have observed that anthrax toxins adversely affect a type of cell in the immune system known as a natural killer–like T (NKT) cell. NKT cells are found in the bone marrow, blood, spleen, lymph nodes and liver and are required for optimal immune responses. We report that anthrax toxins effectively shut down NKT cells, preventing them from functioning normally. We propose that this has serious consequences because anyone infected with Bacillus anthracis will be less able to mount an immune response against it.
The recent development of genetic markers for Bacillus anthracis has made it possible to monitor the spread and distribution of this pathogen during and between anthrax outbreaks. In Namibia, anthrax outbreaks occur annually in the Etosha National Park (ENP) and on private game and livestock farms. We genotyped 384 B. anthracis isolates collected between 1983–2010 to identify the possible epidemiological correlations of anthrax outbreaks within and outside the ENP and to analyze genetic relationships between isolates from domestic and wild animals. The isolates came from 20 animal species and from the environment and were genotyped using a 31-marker multi-locus-VNTR-analysis (MLVA) and, in part, by twelve single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers and four single nucleotide repeat (SNR) markers. A total of 37 genotypes (GT) were identified by MLVA, belonging to four SNP-groups. All GTs belonged to the A-branch in the cluster- and SNP-analyses. Thirteen GTs were found only outside the ENP, 18 only within the ENP and 6 both inside and outside. Genetic distances between isolates increased with increasing time between isolations. However, genetic distance between isolates at the beginning and end of the study period was relatively small, indicating that while the majority of GTs were only found sporadically, three genetically close GTs, accounting for more than four fifths of all the ENP isolates, appeared dominant throughout the study period. Genetic distances among isolates were significantly greater for isolates from different host species, but this effect was small, suggesting that while species-specific ecological factors may affect exposure processes, transmission cycles in different host species are still highly interrelated. The MLVA data were further used to establish a model of the probable evolution of GTs within the endemic region of the ENP. SNR-analysis was helpful in correlating an isolate with its source but did not elucidate epidemiological relationships.
Anthrax, the disease caused by Bacillus anthracis, is a neglected zoonotic diseases in the context of its impact on poor rural and periurban communities in Africa and other less developed areas of the world. Several regions of Namibia, the Etosha National Park in particular, are well known as being endemic areas for anthrax and, together, provide a good model for the investigation of the genetic diversity of B. anthracis circulating in livestock, wildlife and humans, and surrounding environments. The application of modern molecular strain typing techniques to the analysis of genotypic diversity, as it relates to the spatial and temporal distribution of B. anthracis strains in Namibia, is described in this paper. In particular, we demonstrate how it is possible to distinguish outbreaks of the disease caused by different strains from those caused by the spread of a single strain, to trace an outbreak strain back to its possible origin, and to track the routes of transmission of an outbreak strain within and between animal populations. The data described are relevant to all those concerned with monitoring, surveillance and prevention of the spread of anthrax in endemic areas.
There is a clear need for vaccines and therapeutics for potential biological weapons of mass destruction and emerging diseases. Anthrax, caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, has been used as both a biological warfare agent and bioterrorist weapon previously. Although antibiotic therapy is effective in the early stages of anthrax infection, it does not have any effect once exposed individuals become symptomatic due to B. anthracis exotoxin accumulation. The bipartite exotoxins are the major contributing factors to the morbidity and mortality observed in acute anthrax infections.
Using recombinant B. anthracis protective antigen (PA83), covalently coupled to a novel non-toxic muramyl dipeptide (NT-MDP) derivative we hyper-immunized goats three times over the course of 14 weeks. Goats were plasmapheresed and the IgG fraction (not affinity purified) and F(ab')2 derivatives were characterized in vitro and in vivo for protection against lethal toxin mediated intoxication.
Anti-PA83 IgG conferred 100% protection at 7.5 μg in a cell toxin neutralization assay. Mice exposed to 5 LD50 of Bacillus anthracis Ames spores by intranares inoculation demonstrated 60% survival 14 d post-infection when administered a single bolus dose (32 mg/kg body weight) of anti-PA83 IgG at 24 h post spore challenge. Anti-PA83 F(ab')2 fragments retained similar neutralization and protection levels both in vitro and in vivo.
The protection afforded by these GMP-grade caprine immunotherapeutics post-exposure in the pilot murine model suggests they could be used effectively to treat post-exposure, symptomatic human anthrax patients following a bioterrorism event. These results also indicate that recombinant PA83 coupled to NT-MDP is a potent inducer of neutralizing antibodies and suggest it would be a promising vaccine candidate for anthrax. The ease of production, ease of covalent attachment, and immunostimulatory activity of the NT-MDP indicate it would be a superior adjuvant to alum or other traditional adjuvants in vaccine formulations.
In the last ten years, bioterrorism has become a serious threat and challenge to public health worldwide. Pulmonary anthrax caused by airborne Bacillus anthracis spores is a life- threatening disease often refractory to antimicrobial therapy. Inhaled spores germinate into vegetative forms that elaborate an anti-phagocytic capsule along with potent exotoxins which disrupt the signaling pathways governing the innate and adaptive immune responses and cause endothelial cell dysfunction leading to vascular injury in the lung, hypoxia, hemorrhage, and death.
Using a murine model of pulmonary anthrax disease, we showed that a nuclear transport modifier restored markers of the innate immune response in spore-infected animals. An 8-day protocol of single-dose ciprofloxacin had no significant effect on mortality (4% survival) of A/J mice lethally infected with B. anthracis Sterne. Strikingly, mice were much more likely to survive infection (52% survival) when treated with ciprofloxacin and a cell-penetrating peptide modifier of host nuclear transport, termed cSN50. In B. anthracis-infected animals treated with antibiotic alone, we detected a muted innate immune response manifested by cytokines, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα), interleukin (IL)-6, and chemokine monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1), while the hypoxia biomarker, erythropoietin (EPO), was greatly elevated. In contrast, cSN50-treated mice receiving ciprofloxacin demonstrated a restored innate immune responsiveness and reduced EPO level. Consistent with this improvement of innate immunity response and suppression of hypoxia biomarker, surviving mice in the combination treatment group displayed minimal histopathologic signs of vascular injury and a marked reduction of anthrax bacilli in the lungs.
We demonstrate, for the first time, that regulating nuclear transport with a cell-penetrating modifier provides a cytoprotective effect, which enables the host's immune system to reduce its susceptibility to lethal B. anthracis infection. Thus, by combining a nuclear transport modifier with antimicrobial therapy we offer a novel adjunctive measure to control florid pulmonary anthrax disease.
The lack of identified exposures in 2 of the 11 cases of bioterrorism-related inhalation anthrax in 2001 raised uncertainty about the infectious dose and transmission of Bacillus anthracis. We used the Wells-Riley mathematical model of airborne infection to estimate 1) the exposure concentrations in postal facilities where cases of inhalation anthrax occurred and 2) the risk for infection in various hypothetical scenarios of exposure to B. anthracis aerosolized from contaminated mail in residential settings. These models suggest that a small number of cases of inhalation anthrax can be expected when large numbers of persons are exposed to low concentrations of B. anthracis. The risk for inhalation anthrax is determined not only by bacillary virulence factors but also by infectious aerosol production and removal rates and by host factors.
Anthrax; Air microbiology; Infection; Risk; Inhalation exposure; Lethal Dose 50; Ventilation
From October 4 to November 2, 2001, the first 10 confirmed cases of inhalational anthrax caused by intentional release of Bacillus anthracis were identified in the United States. Epidemiologic investigation indicated that the outbreak, in the District of Columbia, Florida, New Jersey, and New York, resulted from intentional delivery of B. anthracis spores through mailed letters or packages. We describe the clinical presentation and course of these cases of bioterrorism-related inhalational anthrax. The median age of patients was 56 years (range 43 to 73 years), 70% were male, and except for one, all were known or believed to have processed, handled, or received letters containing B. anthracis spores. The median incubation period from the time of exposure to onset of symptoms, when known (n=6), was 4 days (range 4 to 6 days). Symptoms at initial presentation included fever or chills (n=10), sweats (n=7), fatigue or malaise (n=10), minimal or nonproductive cough (n=9), dyspnea (n=8), and nausea or vomiting (n=9). The median white blood cell count was 9.8 X 10(3)/mm(3) (range 7.5 to 13.3), often with increased neutrophils and band forms. Nine patients had elevated serum transaminase levels, and six were hypoxic. All 10 patients had abnormal chest X-rays; abnormalities included infiltrates (n=7), pleural effusion (n=8), and mediastinal widening (seven patients). Computed tomography of the chest was performed on eight patients, and mediastinal lymphadenopathy was present in seven. With multidrug antibiotic regimens and supportive care, survival of patients (60%) was markedly higher (<15%) than previously reported.
The availability of relevant and useful animal models is critical for progress in the development of effective vaccines and therapeutics. The infection of rabbits and non-human primates with fully virulent Bacillus anthracis spores provides two excellent models of anthrax disease. However, the high cost of procuring and housing these animals and the specialized facilities required to deliver fully virulent spores limit their practical use in early stages of product development. Conversely, the small size and low cost associated with using mice makes this animal model more practical for conducting experiments in which large numbers of animals are required. In addition, the availability of knockout strains and well-characterized immunological reagents makes it possible to perform studies in mice that cannot be performed easily in other species. Although we, along with others, have used the mouse aerosol challenge model to examine the outcome of B. anthracis infection, a detailed characterization of the disease is lacking. The current study utilizes a murine aerosol challenge model to investigate disease progression, innate cytokine responses, and histological changes during the course of anthrax after challenge with aerosolized spores. Our results show that anthrax disease progression in a complement-deficient mouse after challenge with aerosolized Sterne spores is similar to that described for other species, including rabbits and non-human primates, challenged with fully virulent B. anthracis. Thus, the murine aerosol challenge model is both useful and relevant and provides a means to further investigate the host response and mechanisms of B. anthracis pathogenesis.
Anthrax, a potentially fatal infection, is a virulent and highly contagious disease. It is caused by a gram-positive, toxigenic, spore-forming bacillus: Bacillus anthracis. For centuries, anthrax has caused disease in animals and, although uncommonly, in humans throughout the world. Descriptions of this naturally occurring disease begin in antiquity. Anthrax is primarily a disease of herbivores, which are infected by ingestion of spores from the soil. With the advent of modern microbiology, Pasteur developed the first successful anthrax vaccine in 1881. The incidence of the disease has continually decreased since the late 19th century, and animal vaccination programs drastically reduced the animal mortality from the disease. However, anthrax spores continue to be documented in soil samples from throughout the world. Research on anthrax as a biological weapon began more than 80 years ago, and today at least 17 nations are believed to have offensive biological weapons programs that include anthrax. Recent events in the USA have shown how society is affected by both hoax and real threats of anthrax bioweapons. This fourth article in the series on weapons of biowarfare/bioterrorism summarizes the historical background of anthrax as well as clinical and laboratory information useful for bioterrorism preparedness.
Lethal toxin (LT) is a critical virulence factor of Bacillus anthracis, the etiological agent of anthrax, whose pulmonary form is fatal in the absence of treatment. Inflammatory response is a key process of host defense against invading pathogens. We report here that intranasal instillation of a B. anthracis strain bearing inactive LT stimulates cytokine production and polymorphonuclear (PMN) neutrophils recruitment in lungs. These responses are repressed by a prior instillation of an LT preparation. In contrast, instillation of a B. anthracis strain expressing active LT represses lung inflammation. The inhibitory effects of LT on cytokine production are also observed in vitro using mouse and human pulmonary epithelial cells. These effects are associated with an alteration of ERK and p38-MAPK phosphorylation, but not JNK phosphorylation. We demonstrate that although NF-κB is essential for IL-8 expression, LT downregulates this expression without interfering with NF-κB activation in epithelial cells. Histone modifications are known to induce chromatin remodelling, thereby enhancing NF-κB binding on promoters of a subset of genes involved in immune response. We show that LT selectively prevents histone H3 phosphorylation at Ser 10 and recruitment of the p65 subunit of NF-κB at the IL-8 and KC promoters. Our results suggest that B. anthracis represses the immune response, in part by altering chromatin accessibility of IL-8 promoter to NF-κB in epithelial cells. This epigenetic reprogramming, in addition to previously reported effects of LT, may represent an efficient strategy used by B. anthracis for invading the host.
Bacillus anthracis, the etiological agent of anthrax, can infect mammals either accidentally or as a potential consequence of a terrorism threat. Pulmonary infection is a life-threatening form of the disease, causing a near 100% mortality rate in the absence of appropriate therapy. Thus, it is important to understand the mechanisms of host defense against B. anthracis. We examined the effects of various B. anthracis strains on lung inflammation in a mouse model of pulmonary anthrax and on human lung epithelial cells, the first barrier of lung against invading pathogens. We showed that a B. anthracis strain expressing lethal toxin inhibits inflammation. In contrast, a strain in which this toxin has been inactivated induces lung inflammation. We next examined the mechanisms involved in the inhibitory effect of lethal toxin. We showed that B. anthracis injects lethal toxin into epithelial cells, blocks the molecules associated on the chromosome, and thus represses production of mediators involved in inflammation. As the latter is a key process in host defense, its alteration by lethal toxin predisposes the host to infection by B. anthracis. This effect on the chromosomal machinery may represent an efficient strategy used by B. anthracis for invading the host.
On October 15, 2001, a U.S. Senate staff member opened an envelope containing Bacillus anthracis spores. Chemoprophylaxis was promptly initiated and nasal swabs obtained for all persons in the immediate area. An epidemiologic investigation was conducted to define exposure areas and identify persons who should receive prolonged chemoprophylaxis, based on their exposure risk. Persons immediately exposed to B. anthracis spores were interviewed; records were reviewed to identify additional persons in this area. Persons with positive nasal swabs had repeat swabs and serial serologic evaluation to measure antibodies to B. anthracis protective antigen (anti-PA). A total of 625 persons were identified as requiring prolonged chemoprophylaxis; 28 had positive nasal swabs. Repeat nasal swabs were negative at 7 days; none had developed anti-PA antibodies by 42 days after exposure. Early nasal swab testing is a useful epidemiologic tool to assess risk of exposure to aerosolized B. anthracis. Early, wide chemoprophylaxis may have averted an outbreak of anthrax in this population.
Bacillus anthracis; nasal swabs; epidemiology; bioterrorism; postexposure prophylaxis
Bacillus anthracis produces a binary toxin composed of protective antigen (PA) and one of two subunits, lethal factor (LF) or edema factor (EF). Most studies have concentrated on induction of toxin-specific antibodies as the correlate of protective immunity, in contrast to which understanding of cellular immunity to these toxins and its impact on infection is limited. We characterized CD4+ T cell immunity to LF in a panel of humanized HLA-DR and DQ transgenic mice and in naturally exposed patients. As the variation in antigen presentation governed by HLA polymorphism has a major impact on protective immunity to specific epitopes, we examined relative binding affinities of LF peptides to purified HLA class II molecules, identifying those regions likely to be of broad applicability to human immune studies through their ability to bind multiple alleles. Transgenics differing only in their expression of human HLA class II alleles showed a marked hierarchy of immunity to LF. Immunogenicity in HLA transgenics was primarily restricted to epitopes from domains II and IV of LF and promiscuous, dominant epitopes, common to all HLA types, were identified in domain II. The relevance of this model was further demonstrated by the fact that a number of the immunodominant epitopes identified in mice were recognized by T cells from humans previously infected with cutaneous anthrax and from vaccinated individuals. The ability of the identified epitopes to confer protective immunity was demonstrated by lethal anthrax challenge of HLA transgenic mice immunized with a peptide subunit vaccine comprising the immunodominant epitopes that we identified.
Anthrax is of concern with respect to human exposure in endemic regions, concerns about bioterrorism and the considerable global burden of livestock infections. The immunology of this disease remains poorly understood. Vaccination has been based on B. anthracis filtrates or attenuated spore-based vaccines, with more recent trials of next-generation recombinant vaccines. Approaches generally require extensive vaccination regimens and there have been concerns about immunogenicity and adverse reactions. An ongoing need remains for rationally designed, effective and safe anthrax vaccines. The importance of T cell stimulating vaccines is inceasingly recognized. An essential step is an understanding of immunodominant epitopes and their relevance across the diverse HLA immune response genes of human populations. We characterized CD4 T cell immunity to anthrax Lethal Factor (LF), using HLA transgenic mice, as well as testing candidate peptide epitopes for binding to a wide range of HLA alleles. We identified anthrax epitopes, noteworthy in that they elicit exceptionally strong immunity with promiscuous binding across multiple HLA alleles and isotypes. T cell responses in humans exposed to LF through either natural anthrax infection or vaccination were also examined. Epitopes identified as candidates were used to protect HLA transgenic mice from anthrax challenge.
Inhalation anthrax is a potentially lethal form of disease resulting from exposure to aerosolized Bacillus anthracis spores. Over the last decade, incidents spanning from the deliberate mailing of B. anthracis spores to incidental exposures in users of illegal drugs have highlighted the importance of developing new medical countermeasures to protect people who have been exposed to “anthrax spores” and are at risk of developing disease. The New Zealand White rabbit (NZWR) is a well-characterized model that has a pathogenesis and clinical presentation similar to those seen in humans. This article reports how the NZWR model was adapted to evaluate postexposure prophylaxis using a recombinant protective antigen (rPA) vaccine in combination with an oral antibiotic, levofloxacin. NZWRs were exposed to multiples of the 50% lethal dose (LD50) of B. anthracis spores and then vaccinated immediately (day 0) and again on day 7 postexposure. Levofloxacin was administered daily beginning at 6 to 12 h postexposure for 7 treatments. Rabbits were evaluated for clinical signs of disease, fever, bacteremia, immune response, and survival. A robust immune response (IgG anti-rPA and toxin-neutralizing antibodies) was observed in all vaccinated groups on days 10 to 12. Levofloxacin plus either 30 or 100 μg rPA vaccine resulted in a 100% survival rate (18 of 18 per group), and a vaccine dose as low as 10 μg rPA resulted in an 89% survival rate (16 of 18) when used in combination with levofloxacin. In NZWRs that received antibiotic alone, the survival rate was 56% (10 of 18). There was no adverse effect on the development of a specific IgG response to rPA in unchallenged NZWRs that received the combination treatment of vaccine plus antibiotic. This study demonstrated that an accelerated two-dose regimen of rPA vaccine coadministered on days 0 and 7 with 7 days of levofloxacin therapy results in a significantly greater survival rate than with antibiotic treatment alone. Combination of vaccine administration and antibiotic treatment may be an effective strategy for treating a population exposed to aerosolized B. anthracis spores.
Anthrax is a highly contagious and potentially fatal human disease caused by Bacillus anthracis, an aerobic, Gram-positive, spore-forming rod-shaped bacterium with worldwide distribution as a zoonotic infection in herbivore animals. Bioterrorist attacks with inhalational anthrax have prompted the development of more effective treatments. Antibodies against anthrax toxin have been shown to decrease mortality in animal studies. Raxibacumab is a recombinant human monoclonal antibody developed against inhalational anthrax. The drug received approval after human studies showed its safety and animal studies demonstrated its efficacy for treatment as well as prophylaxis against inhalational anthrax. It works by preventing binding of the protective antigen component of the anthrax toxin to its receptors in host cells, thereby blocking the toxin’s deleterious effects. Recently updated therapy guidelines for Bacillus anthracis recommend the use of antitoxin treatment. Raxibacumab is the first monoclonal antitoxin antibody made available that can be used with the antibiotics recommended for treatment of the disease. When exposure is suspected, raxibacumab should be given with anthrax vaccination to augment immunity. Raxibacumab provides additional protection against inhalational anthrax via a mechanism different from that of either antibiotics or active immunization. In combination with currently available and recommended therapies, raxibacumab should reduce the morbidity and mortality of inhalational anthrax.
anthrax; monoclonal antibody; protective antigen; raxibacumab
Anthrax toxins significantly contribute to anthrax disease pathogenesis, and mechanisms by which the toxins affect host cellular responses have been identified with purified toxins. However, the contribution of anthrax toxin proteins to dissemination, disease progression, and subsequent immunity after aerosol infection with spores has not been clearly elucidated. To better understand the role of anthrax toxins in pathogenesis in vivo and to investigate the contribution of antibody to toxin proteins in protection, we completed a series of in vivo experiments using a murine aerosol challenge model and a collection of in-frame deletion mutants lacking toxin components. Our data show that after aerosol exposure to Bacillus anthracis spores, anthrax lethal toxin was required for outgrowth of bacilli in the draining lymph nodes and subsequent progression of infection beyond the lymph nodes to establish disseminated disease. After pulmonary exposure to anthrax spores, toxin expression was required for the development of protective immunity to a subsequent lethal challenge. However, immunoglobulin (immunoglobulin G) titers to toxin proteins, prior to secondary challenge, did not correlate with the protection observed upon secondary challenge with wild-type spores. A correlation was observed between survival after secondary challenge and rapid anamnestic responses directed against toxin proteins. Taken together, these studies indicate that anthrax toxins are required for dissemination of bacteria beyond the draining lymphoid tissue, leading to full virulence in the mouse aerosol challenge model, and that primary and anamnestic immune responses to toxin proteins provide protection against subsequent lethal challenge. These results provide support for the utility of the mouse aerosol challenge model for the study of inhalational anthrax.
Bacillus anthracis, the bacterium that causes anthrax, is an agent of bioterrorism. The most effective antimicrobial therapy for B. anthracis infections is unknown. An in vitro pharmacodynamic model of B. anthracis was used to compare the efficacies of simulated clinically prescribed regimens of moxifloxacin, linezolid, and meropenem with the “gold standards,” doxycycline and ciprofloxacin. Treatment outcomes for isogenic spore-forming and non-spore-forming strains of B. anthracis were compared. Against spore-forming B. anthracis, ciprofloxacin, moxifloxacin, linezolid, and meropenem reduced the B. anthracis population by 4 log10 CFU/ml over 10 days. Doxycycline reduced the population of this B. anthracis strain by 5 log10 CFU/ml (analysis of variance [ANOVA] P = 0.01 versus other drugs). Against an isogenic non-spore-forming strain, meropenem killed the vegetative B. anthracis the fastest, followed by moxifloxacin and ciprofloxacin and then doxycycline. Linezolid offered the lowest bacterial kill rate. Heat shock studies using the spore-producing B. anthracis strain showed that with moxifloxacin, ciprofloxacin, and meropenem therapies the total population was mostly spores, while the population was primarily vegetative bacteria with linezolid and doxycycline therapies. Spores have a profound impact on the rate and extent of killing of B. anthracis. Against spore-forming B. anthracis, the five antibiotics killed the total (spore and vegetative) bacterial population at similar rates (within 1 log10 CFU/ml of each other). However, bactericidal antibiotics killed vegetative B. anthracis faster than bacteriostatic drugs. Since only vegetative-phase B. anthracis produces the toxins that may kill the infected host, the rate and mechanism of killing of an antibiotic may determine its overall in vivo efficacy. Further studies are needed to examine this important observation.
The notion that inhalation of a single Bacillus anthracis spore is fatal has become entrenched nearly to the point of urban legend, in part because of incomplete articulation of the scientific basis for microbial risk assessment, particularly dose-response assessment. Risk analysis (ie, risk assessment, risk communication, risk management) necessitates transparency: distinguishing scientific facts, hypotheses, judgments, biases in interpretations, and potential misinformation. The difficulty in achieving transparency for biothreat risk is magnified by misinformation and poor characterization of both dose-response relationships and the driving mechanisms that cause susceptibility or resistance to disease progression. Regrettably, this entrenchment unnecessarily restricts preparedness planning to a single response scenario: decontaminate until no spores are detectable in air, water, or on surfaces—essentially forcing a zero-tolerance policy inconsistent with the biology of anthrax. We present evidence about inhalation anthrax dose-response relationships, including reports from multiple studies documenting exposures insufficient to cause inhalation anthrax in laboratory animals and humans. The emphasis of the article is clarification about what is known from objective scientific evidence for doses of anthrax spores associated with survival and mortality. From this knowledge base, we discuss the need for future applications of more formal risk analysis processes to guide development of alternative non-zero criteria or standards based on science to inform preparedness planning and other risk management activities.