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1.  Anthrax Lethal Factor as an Immune Target in Humans and Transgenic Mice and the Impact of HLA Polymorphism on CD4+ T Cell Immunity 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(5):e1004085.
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.
Author Summary
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.
PMCID: PMC4006929  PMID: 24788397
2.  Anthrax Vaccination Induced Anti-Lethal Factor IgG: Fine Specificity and Neutralizing Capacity 
Vaccine  2011;29(20):3670-3678.
The efficacy biomarker of the currently licensed anthrax vaccine (AVA) is based on quantity and neutralizing capacity of anti-Protective Antigen (anti-PA) antibodies. However, animal studies have demonstrated that antibodies to Lethal Factor (LF) can provide protection against in vivo bacterial spore challenges. Improved understanding of the fine specificities of humoral immune responses that provide optimum neutralization capacity may enhance the efficacy of future passive immune globulin preparations to treat and prevent inhalation anthrax morbidity and mortality. This study (n = 1000) was designed to identify AVA vaccinated individuals who generate neutralizing antibodies and to determine what specificities correlate with protection. The number of vaccine doses, years post vaccination, and PA titer were associated with in vitro neutralization, reinforcing previous reports. In addition, African American individuals had lower serologic neutralizing activity than European Americans, suggesting a genetic role in the generation of these neutralizing antibodies. Of the vaccinated individuals, only 69 (6.9%) had moderate levels of anti-LF IgG compared to 244 (24.4%) with low and 687 (68.7%) with extremely low levels of IgG antibodies to LF. Using overlapping decapeptide analysis, we identified six common LF antigenic regions targeted by those individuals with moderate levels of antibodies to LF and high in vitro toxin neutralizing activity. Affinity purified antibodies directed against antigenic epitopes within the PA binding and ADP-ribotransferase-like domains of LF were able to protect mice against lethal toxin challenge. Findings from these studies have important implications for vaccine design and immunotherapeutic development.
PMCID: PMC3233230  PMID: 21420416
Bacillus anthracis; Anthrax; Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed; Lethal Factor; Protective Antigen; correlate of protection
3.  Human anti-anthrax protective antigen neutralizing monoclonal antibodies derived from donors vaccinated with anthrax vaccine adsorbed 
Potent anthrax toxin neutralizing human monoclonal antibodies were generated from peripheral blood lymphocytes obtained from Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed (AVA) immune donors. The anti-anthrax toxin human monoclonal antibodies were evaluated for neutralization of anthrax lethal toxin in vivo in the Fisher 344 rat bolus toxin challenge model.
Human peripheral blood lymphocytes from AVA immunized donors were engrafted into severe combined immunodeficient (SCID) mice. Vaccination with anthrax protective antigen and lethal factor produced a significant increase in antigen specific human IgG in the mouse serum. The antibody producing lymphocytes were immortalized by hybridoma formation. The genes encoding the protective antibodies were rescued and stable cell lines expressing full-length human immunoglobulin were established. The antibodies were characterized by; (1) surface plasmon resonance; (2) inhibition of toxin in an in vitro mouse macrophage cell line protection assay and (3) in vivo in a Fischer 344 bolus lethal toxin challenge model.
The range of antibodies generated were diverse with evidence of extensive hyper mutation, and all were of very high affinity for PA83~1 × 10-10-11M. Moreover all the antibodies were potent inhibitors of anthrax lethal toxin in vitro. A single IV dose of AVP-21D9 or AVP-22G12 was found to confer full protection with as little as 0.5× (AVP-21D9) and 1× (AVP-22G12) molar equivalence relative to the anthrax toxin in the rat challenge prophylaxis model.
Here we describe a powerful technology to capture the recall antibody response to AVA vaccination and provide detailed molecular characterization of the protective human monoclonal antibodies. AVP-21D9, AVP-22G12 and AVP-1C6 protect rats from anthrax lethal toxin at low dose. Aglycosylated versions of the most potent antibodies are also protective in vivo, suggesting that lethal toxin neutralization is not Fc effector mediated. The protective effect of AVP-21D9 persists for at least one week in rats. These potent fully human anti-PA toxin-neutralizing antibodies are attractive candidates for prophylaxis and/or treatment against Anthrax Class A bioterrorism toxins.
PMCID: PMC420254  PMID: 15140257
4.  Selection and characterization of human antibodies neutralizing Bacillus anthracis toxin 
Bioorganic & medicinal chemistry  2007;16(4):1903-1913.
A less than adequate therapeutic plan for the treatment of anthrax in the 2001 bioterrorism attacks has highlighted the importance of developing alternative or complementary therapeutic approaches for biothreat agents. In these regards passive immunization possesses several important advantages over active vaccination and the use of antibiotics, as it can provide immediate protection against Bacillus anthracis. Herein, we report the selection and characterization of several human monoclonal neutralizing antibodies against the toxin of B. anthracis from a phage displayed human scFv library. In total fifteen clones were selected with distinct sequences and high specificity to protective antigen and thus were the subject of a series of both biophysical and cell-based cytotoxicity assays. From this panel of antibodies a set of neutralizing antibodies were identified, of which clone A8 recognizes the lethal (and/or edema) factor binding domain, and clone F1, G11 and G12 recognize the cellular receptor binding domain within protective antigen. It was noted that all clones distinguish a conformational epitope existing on the protective antigen; this steric relationship was uncovered using a sequential epitope mapping approach. For each neutralizing antibody, the kinetic constants were determined by surface plasmon resonance, while the potency of protection was established using a two-tier macrophage cytotoxicity assay. Among the neutralizing antibodies identified, clone F1 possessed the highest affinity to protective antigen, and provided superior protection from lethal toxin in the cell cytotoxicity assay. The data presented provides to the ever-growing arsenal of immunological and functional analysis of monoclonal antibodies to the exotoxins of anthrax. In addition it grants new candidates for the prophylaxis and therapeutic treatment against this toxin.
PMCID: PMC2268906  PMID: 18023190
Bacillus anthracis; protective antigen; human monoclonal antibodies; neutralizing antibodies; phage antibody library
5.  Identification and Validation of a Linear Protective Neutralizing Epitope in the β-Pore Domain of Alpha Toxin 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(1):e0116882.
The plethora of virulence factors associated with Staphylococcus aureus make this bacterium an attractive candidate for a molecularly-designed epitope-focused vaccine. This approach, which necessitates the identification of neutralizing epitopes for incorporation into a vaccine construct, is being evaluated for pathogens where conventional approaches have failed to elicit protective humoral responses, like HIV-1 and malaria, but may also hold promise for pathogens like S. aureus, where the elicitation of humoral immunity against multiple virulence factors may be required for development of an effective vaccine. Among the virulence factors employed by S. aureus, animal model and epidemiological data suggest that alpha toxin, a multimeric β-pore forming toxin like protective antigen from Bacillus anthracis, is particularly critical, yet no candidate neutralizing epitopes have been delineated in alpha toxin to date. We have previously shown that a linear determinant in the 2β2-2β3 loop of the pore forming domain of B. anthracis protective antigen is a linear neutralizing epitope. Antibody against this site is highly potent for neutralizing anthrax lethal toxin in vitro and for protection of rabbits in vivo from virulent B. anthracis. We hypothesized that sequences in the β-pore of S. aureus alpha toxin that share structural and functional homology to β-pore sequences in protective antigen would contain a similarly critical neutralizing epitope. Using an in vivo mapping strategy employing peptide immunogens, an optimized in vitro toxin neutralization assay, and an in vivo dermonecrosis model, we have now confirmed the presence of this epitope in alpha toxin, termed the pore neutralizing determinant. Antibody specific for this determinant neutralizes alpha toxin in vitro, and is highly effective for mitigating dermonecrosis and bacterial growth in a mouse model of S. aureus USA300 skin infection. The delineation of this linear neutralizing determinant in alpha toxin could facilitate the development of an epitope-focused vaccine against S. aureus.
PMCID: PMC4311967  PMID: 25635901
6.  Stochastic humoral immunity to Bacillus anthracis Protective Antigen: Identification of anti-peptide IgG correlating with seroconversion to Lethal Toxin neutralization 
Vaccine  2013;31(14):1856-1863.
A substantial fraction of individuals vaccinated against anthrax have low to immeasurable levels of serum Lethal Toxin (LeTx)-neutralizing activity. The only known correlate of protection against Bacillus anthracis in the currently licensed vaccine is magnitude of the IgG response to Protective Antigen (PA); however, some individuals producing high serum levels of anti-PA IgG fail to neutralize LeTx in vitro. This suggests that non-protective humoral responses to PA may be immunodominant in some individuals. Therefore, to better understand why anthrax vaccination elicits heterogeneous levels of protection, this study was designed to elucidate the relationship between anti-PA fine specificity and LeTx neutralization in response to PA vaccination. Inbred mice immunized with recombinant PA produced high levels of anti-PA IgG and neutralized LeTx in vitro and in vivo. Decapeptide binding studies using pooled sera reproducibly identified the same 9 epitopes. Unexpectedly, sera from individual mice revealed substantial heterogeneity in the anti-PA IgG and LeTx neutralization responses, despite relative genetic homogeneity, shared environment and exposure to the same immunogen. This heterogeneity permitted the identification of specificities that correlate with LeTx-neutralizing activity. IgG binding to six decapeptides comprising two PA epitopes, located in domains I and IV, significantly correlate with seroconversion to LeTx neutralization. These results indicate that stochastic variation in humoral immunity is likely to be a major contributor to the general problem of heterogeneity in vaccine responsiveness and suggest that vaccine effectiveness could be improved by approaches that focus the humoral response toward protective epitopes in a greater fraction of vaccinees.
PMCID: PMC3614092  PMID: 23415781
Bacillus anthracis; Protective antigen; Vaccine; B cell epitope; Mice
7.  Rapid generation of an anthrax immunotherapeutic from goats using a novel non-toxic muramyl dipeptide adjuvant 
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.
PMCID: PMC2104530  PMID: 17953756
8.  A Viral Nanoparticle with Dual Function as an Anthrax Antitoxin and Vaccine 
PLoS Pathogens  2007;3(10):e142.
The recent use of Bacillus anthracis as a bioweapon has stimulated the search for novel antitoxins and vaccines that act rapidly and with minimal adverse effects. B. anthracis produces an AB-type toxin composed of the receptor-binding moiety protective antigen (PA) and the enzymatic moieties edema factor and lethal factor. PA is a key target for both antitoxin and vaccine development. We used the icosahedral insect virus Flock House virus as a platform to display 180 copies of the high affinity, PA-binding von Willebrand A domain of the ANTXR2 cellular receptor. The chimeric virus-like particles (VLPs) correctly displayed the receptor von Willebrand A domain on their surface and inhibited lethal toxin action in in vitro and in vivo models of anthrax intoxication. Moreover, VLPs complexed with PA elicited a potent toxin-neutralizing antibody response that protected rats from anthrax lethal toxin challenge after a single immunization without adjuvant. This recombinant VLP platform represents a novel and highly effective, dually-acting reagent for treatment and protection against anthrax.
Author Summary
Anthrax is caused by the spore-forming, Gram-positive bacterium Bacillus anthracis. The toxic effects of B. anthracis are predominantly due to an AB-type toxin made up of the receptor-binding subunit protective antigen (PA) and two enzymatic subunits called lethal factor and edema factor. Protective immunity to B. anthracis infection is conferred by antibodies against PA, which is the primary component of the current anthrax vaccine. Although the vaccine is safe and effective, it requires multiple injections followed by annual boosters. The development of a well-characterized vaccine that induces immunity after a single injection is an important goal. We developed a reagent that combines the functions of an anthrax antitoxin and vaccine in a single compound. It is based on multivalent display of the anthrax toxin receptor, ANTXR2, on the surface of an insect virus. We demonstrate that the recombinant virus-like particles protect rats from anthrax intoxication and that they induce a potent immune response against lethal toxin when coated with PA. This immune response protected animals against lethal toxin challenge after a single administration without adjuvant. The PA-coated particles have significant advantages as an immunogen compared to monomeric PA and form the basis for development of an improved anthrax vaccine.
PMCID: PMC2000967  PMID: 17922572
9.  Prophylaxis and Therapy of Inhalational Anthrax by a Novel Monoclonal Antibody to Protective Antigen That Mimics Vaccine-Induced Immunity  
Infection and Immunity  2006;74(10):5840-5847.
The neutralizing antibody response to the protective antigen (PA) component of anthrax toxin elicited by approved anthrax vaccines is an accepted correlate for vaccine-mediated protection against anthrax. We reasoned that a human anti-PA monoclonal antibody (MAb) selected on the basis of superior toxin neutralization activity might provide potent protection against anthrax. The fully human MAb (also referred to as MDX-1303 or Valortim) was chosen from a large panel of anti-PA human MAbs generated using transgenic mice immunized with recombinant PA solely on the basis of in vitro anthrax toxin neutralization. This MAb was effective in prophylactic and postsymptomatic treatment of rabbits exposed to aerosolized anthrax spores, and a single intramuscular injection of 1 mg/kg of body weight fully protected cynomolgus monkeys challenged with aerosolized anthrax spores. Importantly, MAb 1303 defines a novel neutralizing epitope that requires Fc receptor engagement for maximal activity. F(ab′)2 fragments of MAb 1303, which retain equivalent affinity for PA, are 10- to 100-fold less potent in neutralizing anthrax toxin in vitro. Addition of Fc receptor-blocking antibodies also greatly reduced the activity of MAb 1303. Moreover, we found that the neutralizing activity of mouse, rabbit, and human antisera elicited by PA vaccines was effectively abrogated by blocking Fc receptors. Selection of an anti-PA MAb by using a functional assay that is a surrogate for protection has resulted in the identification of a fully human MAb with potent activity in vivo and uncovered a previously unrecognized mechanism of antibody-mediated toxin neutralization that is important for currently used anthrax vaccines.
PMCID: PMC1594878  PMID: 16988263
10.  Human Monoclonal Antibodies against Anthrax Lethal Factor and Protective Antigen Act Independently To Protect against Bacillus anthracis Infection and Enhance Endogenous Immunity to Anthrax▿  
Infection and Immunity  2007;75(11):5425-5433.
The unpredictable nature of bioterrorism and the absence of real-time detection systems have highlighted the need for an efficient postexposure therapy for Bacillus anthracis infection. One approach is passive immunization through the administration of antibodies that mitigate the biological action of anthrax toxin. We isolated and characterized two protective fully human monoclonal antibodies with specificity for protective antigen (PA) and lethal factor (LF). These antibodies, designated IQNPA (anti-PA) and IQNLF (anti-LF), were developed as hybridomas from individuals immunized with licensed anthrax vaccine. The effective concentration of IQNPA that neutralized 50% of the toxin in anthrax toxin neutralization assays was 0.3 nM, while 0.1 nM IQNLF neutralized the same amount of toxin. When combined, the antibodies had additive neutralization efficacy. IQNPA binds to domain IV of PA containing the host cell receptor binding site, while IQNLF recognizes domain I containing the PA binding region in LF. A single 180-μg dose of either antibody given to A/J mice 2.5 h before challenge conferred 100% protection against a lethal intraperitoneal spore challenge with 24 50% lethal doses [LD50s] of B. anthracis Sterne and against rechallenge on day 20 with a more aggressive challenge dose of 41 LD50s. Mice treated with either antibody and infected with B. anthracis Sterne developed detectable murine anti-PA and anti-LF immunoglobulin G antibody responses by day 17 that were dependent on which antibody the mice had received. Based on these results, IQNPA and IQNLF act independently during prophylactic anthrax treatment and do not interfere with the establishment of endogenous immunity.
PMCID: PMC2168292  PMID: 17646360
11.  Induction of Protective Immunity to Anthrax Lethal Toxin with a Nonhuman Primate Adenovirus-Based Vaccine in the Presence of Preexisting Anti-Human Adenovirus Immunity  
Infection and Immunity  2005;73(10):6885-6891.
Prevention or therapy for bioterrorism-associated anthrax infections requires rapidly acting effective vaccines. We recently demonstrated (Y. Tan, N. R. Hackett, J. L. Boyer, and R. G. Crystal, Hum. Gene Ther. 14:1673-1682, 2003) that a single administration of a recombinant serotype 5 adenovirus (Ad) vector expressing anthrax protective antigen (PA) provides rapid protection against anthrax lethal toxin challenge. However, approximately 35 to 50% of humans have preexisting neutralizing antibodies against Ad5. This study assesses the hypothesis that a recombinant adenovirus vaccine based on the nonhuman primate-derived serotype AdC7, against which humans do not have immunity, expressing PA (AdC7PA) will protect against anthrax lethal toxin even in the presence of preexisting anti-Ad5 immunity. Naive and Ad5-immunized BALB/c mice received (intramuscularly) 108 to 1011 particle units (PU) of AdC7PA, Ad5PA (a human serotype Ad5-based vector expressing a secreted form of PA), or AdNull (an Ad5 vector with no transgene). Robust anti-PA immunoglobulin G and neutralizing antibodies were detected by 2 to 4 weeks following administration of AdC7PA to naive or Ad5 preimmunized mice, whereas low anti-PA titers were detected in Ad5-preimmunized mice following administration of Ad5PA. To assess protection in vivo, naive or mice previously immunized against Ad5 were immunized with AdC7PA or Ad5PA and then challenged with a lethal intravenous dose of Bacillus anthracis lethal toxin. Whereas Ad5PA protected naive mice against challenge with B. anthracis lethal toxin, Ad5PA was ineffective in mice that were previously immunized against Ad5. In contrast, AdC7PA functioned effectively not only to protect naive mice but also to protect Ad5-preimmunized mice, with 100% survival after lethal toxin challenge. These data suggest the nonhuman-based vector AdC7PA is an effective vaccine for the development of protective immunity against B. anthracis and importantly functions as a “sero-switch” base for an adenovirus vaccine to function in the context of preexisting anti-Ad immunity.
PMCID: PMC1230977  PMID: 16177368
12.  Vaccination of Rhesus Macaques with the Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed Vaccine Produces a Serum Antibody Response That Effectively Neutralizes Receptor-Bound Protective Antigen In Vitro ▿  
Clinical and Vaccine Immunology : CVI  2010;17(11):1753-1762.
Anthrax toxin (ATx) is composed of the binary exotoxins lethal toxin (LTx) and edema toxin (ETx). They have separate effector proteins (edema factor and lethal factor) but have the same binding protein, protective antigen (PA). PA is the primary immunogen in the current licensed vaccine anthrax vaccine adsorbed (AVA [BioThrax]). AVA confers protective immunity by stimulating production of ATx-neutralizing antibodies, which could block the intoxication process at several steps (binding of PA to the target cell surface, furin cleavage, toxin complex formation, and binding/translocation of ATx into the cell). To evaluate ATx neutralization by anti-AVA antibodies, we developed two low-temperature LTx neutralization activity (TNA) assays that distinguish antibody blocking before and after binding of PA to target cells (noncomplexed [NC] and receptor-bound [RB] TNA assays). These assays were used to investigate anti-PA antibody responses in AVA-vaccinated rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) that survived an aerosol challenge with Bacillus anthracis Ames spores. Results showed that macaque anti-AVA sera neutralized LTx in vitro, even when PA was prebound to cells. Neutralization titers in surviving versus nonsurviving animals and between prechallenge and postchallenge activities were highly correlated. These data demonstrate that AVA stimulates a myriad of antibodies that recognize multiple neutralizing epitopes and confirm that change, loss, or occlusion of epitopes after PA is processed from PA83 to PA63 at the cell surface does not significantly affect in vitro neutralizing efficacy. Furthermore, these data support the idea that the full-length PA83 monomer is an appropriate immunogen for inclusion in next-generation anthrax vaccines.
PMCID: PMC2976102  PMID: 20739500
13.  Efficacy of a Vaccine Based on Protective Antigen and Killed Spores against Experimental Inhalational Anthrax▿ ‡  
Infection and Immunity  2008;77(3):1197-1207.
Protective antigen (PA)-based anthrax vaccines acting on toxins are less effective than live attenuated vaccines, suggesting that additional antigens may contribute to protective immunity. Several reports indicate that capsule or spore-associated antigens may enhance the protection afforded by PA. Addition of formaldehyde-inactivated spores (FIS) to PA (PA-FIS) elicits total protection against cutaneous anthrax. Nevertheless, vaccines that are effective against cutaneous anthrax may not be so against inhalational anthrax. The aim of this work was to optimize immunization with PA-FIS and to assess vaccine efficacy against inhalational anthrax. We assessed the immune response to recombinant anthrax PA from Bacillus anthracis (rPA)-FIS administered by various immunization protocols and the protection provided to mice and guinea pigs infected through the respiratory route with spores of a virulent strain of B. anthracis. Combined subcutaneous plus intranasal immunization of mice yielded a mucosal immunoglobulin G response to rPA that was more than 20 times higher than that in lung mucosal secretions after subcutaneous vaccination. The titers of toxin-neutralizing antibody and antispore antibody were also significantly higher: nine and eight times higher, respectively. The optimized immunization elicited total protection of mice intranasally infected with the virulent B. anthracis strain 17JB. Guinea pigs were fully protected, both against an intranasal challenge with 100 50% lethal doses (LD50) and against an aerosol with 75 LD50 of spores of the highly virulent strain 9602. Conversely, immunization with PA alone did not elicit protection. These results demonstrate that the association of PA and spores is very much more effective than PA alone against experimental inhalational anthrax.
PMCID: PMC2643630  PMID: 19114543
14.  The Major Neutralizing Antibody Responses to Recombinant Anthrax Lethal and Edema Factors Are Directed to Non-Cross-Reactive Epitopes▿ †  
Infection and Immunity  2009;77(11):4714-4723.
Anthrax lethal and edema toxins (LeTx and EdTx, respectively) form by binding of lethal factor (LF) or edema factor (EF) to the pore-forming moiety protective antigen (PA). Immunity to LF and EF protects animals from anthrax spore challenge and neutralizes anthrax toxins. The goal of the present study is to identify linear B-cell epitopes of EF and to determine the relative contributions of cross-reactive antibodies of EF and LF to LeTx and EdTx neutralization. A/J mice were immunized with recombinant LF (rLF) or rEF. Pools of LF or EF immune sera were tested for reactivity to rLF or rEF by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays, in vitro neutralization of LeTx and EdTx, and binding to solid-phase LF and EF decapeptides. Cross-reactive antibodies were isolated by column absorption of EF-binding antibodies from LF immune sera and by column absorption of LF-binding antibodies from EF immune sera. The resulting fractions were subjected to the same assays. Major cross-reactive epitopes were identified as EF amino acids (aa) 257 to 268 and LF aa 265 to 274. Whole LF and EF immune sera neutralized LeTx and EdTx, respectively. However, LF sera did not neutralize EdTx, nor did EF sera neutralize LeTx. Purified cross-reactive immunoglobulin G also failed to cross-neutralize. Cross-reactive B-cell epitopes in the PA-binding domains of whole rLF and rEF occur and have been identified; however, the major anthrax toxin-neutralizing humoral responses to these antigens are constituted by non-cross-reactive epitopes. This work increases understanding of the immunogenicity of EF and LF and offers perspective for the development of new strategies for vaccination against anthrax.
PMCID: PMC2772542  PMID: 19720758
15.  Immunogenicity of Recombinant Protective Antigen and Efficacy against Aerosol Challenge with Anthrax  
Infection and Immunity  2005;73(9):5978-5987.
Immunization with a recombinant form of the protective antigen (rPA) from Bacillus anthracis has been carried out with rhesus macaques. Rhesus macaques immunized with 25 μg or more of B. subtilis-expressed rPA bound to alhydrogel had a significantly increased immunoglobulin G (IgG) response to rPA compared with macaques receiving the existing licensed vaccine from the United Kingdom (anthrax vaccine precipitated [AVP]), although the isotype profile was unchanged, with bias towards the IgG1 and IgG2 subclasses. Immune macaque sera from all immunized groups contained toxin-neutralizing antibody and recognized all the domains of PA. While the recognition of the N terminus of PA (domains 1 to 3) was predominant in macaques immunized with the existing vaccines (AVP and the U.S. vaccine anthrax vaccine adsorbed), macaques immunized with rPA recognized the N- and C-terminal domains of PA. Antiserum derived from immunized macaques protected macrophages in vitro against the cytotoxic effects of lethal toxin. Passive transfer of IgG purified from immune macaque serum into naive A/J mice conferred protection against challenge with B. anthracis in a dose-related manner. The protection conferred by passive transfer of 500 μg macaque IgG correlated significantly (P = 0.003; r = 0.4) with the titers of neutralizing antibody in donor macaques. Subsequently, a separate group of rhesus macaques immunized with 50 μg of Escherichia coli-derived rPA adsorbed to alhydrogel was fully protected against a target dose of 200 50% lethal doses of aerosolized B. anthracis. These data provide some preliminary evidence for the existence of immune correlates of protection against anthrax infection in rhesus macaques immunized with rPA.
PMCID: PMC1231098  PMID: 16113318
16.  Frequency and Domain Specificity of Toxin-Neutralizing Paratopes in the Human Antibody Response to Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed▿  
Infection and Immunity  2009;77(5):2030-2035.
Protective antigen (PA) is the cell surface recognition unit of the binary anthrax toxin system and the primary immunogenic component in both the current and proposed “next-generation” anthrax vaccines. Several studies utilizing animal models have indicated that PA-specific antibodies, acquired by either active or passive immunization, are sufficient to protect against infection with Bacillus anthracis. To investigate the human antibody response to anthrax immunization, we have established a large panel of human PA-specific monoclonal antibodies derived from multiple individuals vaccinated with the currently approved anthrax vaccine BioThrax. We have determined that although these antibodies bind PA in standard binding assays such as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, Western blotting, capture assays, and dot blots, less than 25% are capable of neutralizing lethal toxin (LT) in vitro. Nonneutralizing antibodies also fail to neutralize toxin when present in combination with other nonneutralizing paratopes. Although neutralizing antibodies recognize determinants throughout the PA monomer, they are significantly less common among those paratopes that bind to the immunodominant amino-terminal portion of the molecule. These findings demonstrate that PA binding alone is not sufficient to neutralize LT and suggest that for an antibody to effectively block PA-mediated toxicity, it must bind to PA such that one of the requisite toxin functions is disrupted. A vaccine design strategy that directed a higher percentage of the antibody response toward neutralizing epitopes may result in a more efficacious vaccine for the prevention of anthrax infection.
PMCID: PMC2681729  PMID: 19223482
17.  In situ gastrointestinal protection against anthrax edema toxin by single-chain antibody fragment producing lactobacilli 
BMC Biotechnology  2011;11:126.
Anthrax is caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis and is regarded as one of the most prominent bioterrorism threats. Anthrax toxicity is induced by the tripartite toxin complex, composed of the receptor-binding anthrax protective antigen and the two enzymatic subunits, lethal factor and edema factor. Recombinant lactobacilli have previously been used to deliver antibody fragments directed against surface epitopes of a variety of pathogens, including Streptococcus mutans, Porphyromonas gingivalis, and rotavirus. Here, we addressed whether or not anthrax toxins could be targeted and neutralised in the gastrointestinal tract by lactobacilli producing recombinant antibody fragments as a model system for toxin neutralisation in the gastrointestinal lumen.
The neutralising anti-PA scFv, 1H, was expressed in L. paracasei as a secreted protein, a cell wall-anchored protein or both secreted and wall-anchored protein. Cell wall display on lactobacilli and PA binding of the anchored constructs was confirmed by flow cytometry analysis. Binding of secreted or attached scFv produced by lactobacilli to PA were verified by ELISA. Both construct were able to protect macrophages in an in vitro cytotoxicity assay. Finally, lactobacilli producing the cell wall attached scFv were able to neutralise the activity of anthrax edema toxin in the GI tract of mice, in vivo.
We have developed lactobacilli expressing a neutralising scFv fragment against the PA antigen of the anthrax toxin, which can provide protection against anthrax toxins both in vitro and in vivo. Utilising engineered lactobacilli therapeutically for neutralising toxins in the gastrointestinal tract can potential be expanded to provide protection against a range of additional gastrointestinal pathogens. The ability of lactobacilli to colonise the gastrointestinal tract may allow the system to be used both prophylactically and therapeutically.
PMCID: PMC3295704  PMID: 22185669
18.  Neutralizing Monoclonal Antibodies Directed against Defined Linear Epitopes on Domain 4 of Anthrax Protective Antigen▿  
Infection and Immunity  2009;77(11):4859-4867.
The anthrax protective antigen (PA) is the receptor-binding subunit common to lethal toxin (LT) and edema toxin (ET), which are responsible for the high mortality rates associated with inhalational Bacillus anthracis infection. Although recombinant PA (rPA) is likely to be an important constituent of any future anthrax vaccine, evaluation of the efficacies of the various candidate rPA vaccines is currently difficult, because the specific B-cell epitopes involved in toxin neutralization have not been completely defined. In this study, we describe the identification and characterization of two murine monoclonal immunoglobulin G1 antibodies (MAbs), 1-F1 and 2-B12, which recognize distinct linear neutralizing epitopes on domain 4 of PA. 1-F1 recognized a 12-mer peptide corresponding to residues 692 to 703; this epitope maps to a region of domain 4 known to interact with the anthrax toxin receptor CMG-2 and within a conformation-dependent epitope recognized by the well-characterized neutralizing MAb 14B7. As expected, 1-F1 blocked PA's ability to associate with CMG-2 in an in vitro solid-phase binding assay, and it protected murine macrophage cells from intoxication with LT. 2-B12 recognized a 12-mer peptide corresponding to residues 716 to 727, an epitope located immediately adjacent to the core 14B7 binding site and a stretch of amino acids not previously identified as a target of neutralizing antibodies. 2-B12 was as effective as 1-F1 in neutralizing LT in vitro, although it only partially inhibited PA binding to its receptor. Mice passively administered 1-F1 or 2-B12 were partially protected against a lethal challenge with LT. These results advance our fundamental understanding of the mechanisms by which antibodies neutralize anthrax toxin and may have future application in the evaluation of candidate rPA vaccines.
PMCID: PMC2772530  PMID: 19703971
19.  Killed but Metabolically Active Bacillus anthracis Vaccines Induce Broad and Protective Immunity against Anthrax▿  
Infection and Immunity  2009;77(4):1649-1663.
Bacillus anthracis is the causative agent of anthrax. We have developed a novel whole-bacterial-cell anthrax vaccine utilizing B. anthracis that is killed but metabolically active (KBMA). Vaccine strains that are asporogenic and nucleotide excision repair deficient were engineered by deleting the spoIIE and uvrAB genes, rendering B. anthracis extremely sensitive to photochemical inactivation with S-59 psoralen and UV light. We also introduced point mutations into the lef and cya genes, which allowed inactive but immunogenic toxins to be produced. Photochemically inactivated vaccine strains maintained a high degree of metabolic activity and secreted protective antigen (PA), lethal factor, and edema factor. KBMA B. anthracis vaccines were avirulent in mice and induced less injection site inflammation than recombinant PA adsorbed to aluminum hydroxide gel. KBMA B. anthracis-vaccinated animals produced antibodies against numerous anthrax antigens, including high levels of anti-PA and toxin-neutralizing antibodies. Vaccination with KBMA B. anthracis fully protected mice against challenge with lethal doses of toxinogenic unencapsulated Sterne 7702 spores and rabbits against challenge with lethal pneumonic doses of fully virulent Ames strain spores. Guinea pigs vaccinated with KBMA B. anthracis were partially protected against lethal Ames spore challenge, which was comparable to vaccination with the licensed vaccine anthrax vaccine adsorbed. These data demonstrate that KBMA anthrax vaccines are well tolerated and elicit potent protective immune responses. The use of KBMA vaccines may be broadly applicable to bacterial pathogens, especially those for which the correlates of protective immunity are unknown.
PMCID: PMC2663168  PMID: 19168734
20.  In vitro and in vivo activities of recombinant anthrax protective antigen co-expressed with thioredoxin in Escherichia coli 
Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics  2013;9(11):2371-2377.
Because of the central role it plays in the formation of lethal toxin and edema toxin, protective antigen (PA) is the principal target for the development of vaccines against anthrax. In the present study, we explored and compared the in vitro and in vivo activities of recombinant anthrax protective antigen (rPA) and receptor binding domain of protective antigen (PA4). As a result, the fully soluble rPA and PA4 proteins were successfully expressed in Escherichia coli by co-expression with thioredoxin (Trx), and the rPA was active in forming cytotoxic lethal toxins, indicating that the rPA protein retains a functionally biological activity. Furthermore, immunization with rPA protein induced stronger PA-specific immune responses in mice than PA4 protein. The protection elicited by immunization with PA4 suggests the presence of common neutralizing epitopes between rPA and PA4, but the immunization with rPA protein induced stronger neutralizing antibodies and protective levels against challenge with the B. anthracis strain A16R than the PA4 protein. The sera neutralizing antibodies titers correlated well with anti-PA group ELISA antibodies titers and the in vivo protective potency. Based on the results of cell cytotoxicity assays and the observed immune responses and protective potency, we concluded that the soluble rPA protein retains the in vitro and in vivo functionally biological activity and can be developed into a highly effective human subunit vaccine candidate against anthrax.
PMCID: PMC3981846  PMID: 23880942
anthrax; PA; activity; immunogenity; vaccine
21.  Sequential B-Cell Epitopes of Bacillus anthracis Lethal Factor Bind Lethal Toxin-Neutralizing Antibodies▿  
Infection and Immunity  2008;77(1):162-169.
The bipartite anthrax lethal toxin (LeTx) consisting of protective antigen (PA) and lethal factor (LF) is a major virulence factor contributing to death from systemic Bacillus anthracis infection. The current vaccine elicits antibodies directed primarily to PA; however, in experimental settings serologic responses to LF can neutralize LeTx and contribute to protection against infection. The goals of the present study were to identify sequential B-cell epitopes of LF and to determine the capacity of these determinants to bind neutralizing antibodies. Sera of recombinant LF-immunized A/J mice exhibited high titers of immunoglobulin G anti-LF reactivity that neutralized LeTx in vitro 78 days after the final booster immunization and protected the mice from in vivo challenge with 3 50% lethal doses of LeTx. These sera bound multiple discontinuous epitopes, and there were major clusters of reactivity on native LF. Strikingly, all three neutralizing, LF-specific monoclonal antibodies tested bound specific peptide sequences that coincided with sequential epitopes identified in polyclonal antisera from recombinant LF-immunized mice. This study confirms that LF induces high-titer protective antibodies in vitro and in vivo. Moreover, the binding of short LF peptides by LF-specific neutralizing monoclonal antibodies suggests that generation of protective antibodies by peptide vaccination may be feasible for this antigen. This study paves the way for a more effective anthrax vaccine by identifying discontinuous peptide epitopes of LF.
PMCID: PMC2612257  PMID: 18981257
22.  The Early Humoral Immune Response to Bacillus anthracis Toxins in Patients Infected with Cutaneous Anthrax 
Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax, elaborates a tripartite toxin composed of two enzymatically active subunits, lethal factor (LF) and edema factor (EF) which, when associated with a cell-binding component, protective antigen (PA), form lethal toxin (LT) and edema toxin (ET), respectively. In this preliminary study we characterised the toxin-specific antibody responses observed in 17 individuals infected with cutaneous anthrax. The majority of the toxin-specific antibody responses observed following infection were directed against LF with IgG detected as early as 4 days after onset of symptoms in contrast to the later and lower EF- and PA-specific IgG responses. Unlike the case with infection, the predominant toxin-specific antibody response of those immunized with the US AVA and UK AVP licensed anthrax vaccines was directed against PA.. We observed that the LF-specific human antibodies were, like anti-PA antibodies, able to neutralize toxin activity, suggesting the possibility that they may contribute to protection. We conclude that an antibody response to LF might be a more sensitive diagnostic marker of anthrax than to PA. The ability of human LF-specific antibodies to neutralize toxin activity supports the possible inclusion of LF in future anthrax vaccines.
PMCID: PMC3605738  PMID: 21401726
anthrax; lethal factor; edema factor; protective antigen
23.  Recombinant Vaccine Displaying the Loop-Neutralizing Determinant from Protective Antigen Completely Protects Rabbits from Experimental Inhalation Anthrax 
We previously showed that a multiple antigenic peptide (MAP) vaccine displaying amino acids (aa) 304 to 319 from the 2β2-2β3 loop of protective antigen was capable of protecting rabbits from an aerosolized spore challenge with Bacillus anthracis Ames strain. Antibodies to this sequence, referred to as the loop-neutralizing determinant (LND), are highly potent at neutralizing lethal toxin yet are virtually absent in rabbit and human protective antigen (PA) antiserum. While the MAP vaccine was protective against anthrax, it contains a single heterologous helper T cell epitope which may be suboptimal for stimulating an outbred human population. We therefore engineered a recombinant vaccine (Rec-LND) containing two tandemly repeated copies of the LND fused to maltose binding protein, with enhanced immunogenicity resulting from the p38/P4 helper T cell epitope from Schistosoma mansoni. Rec-LND was found to be highly immunogenic in four major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-diverse strains of mice. All (7/7) rabbits immunized with Rec-LND developed high-titer antibody, 6 out of 7 developed neutralizing antibody, and all rabbits were protected from an aerosolized spore challenge of 193 50% lethal doses (LD50) of the B. anthracis Ames strain. Survivor serum from Rec-LND-immunized rabbits revealed significantly increased neutralization titers and specific activity compared to prechallenge levels yet lacked PA or lethal factor (LF) antigenemia. Control rabbits immunized with PA, which were also completely protected, appeared sterilely immune, exhibiting significant declines in neutralization titer and specific activity compared to prechallenge levels. We conclude that Rec-LND may represent a prototype anthrax vaccine for use alone or potentially combined with PA-containing vaccines.
PMCID: PMC3592347  PMID: 23283638
24.  Complement C3d Conjugation to Anthrax Protective Antigen Promotes a Rapid, Sustained, and Protective Antibody Response 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(10):e1044.
B. anthracis is the causative agent of anthrax. Pathogenesis is primarily mediated through the exotoxins lethal factor and edema factor, which bind protective antigen (PA) to gain entry into the host cell. The current anthrax vaccine (AVA, Biothrax™) consists of aluminum-adsorbed cell-free filtrates of unencapsulated B. anthracis, wherein PA is thought to be the principle target of neutralization. In this study, we evaluated the efficacy of the natural adjuvant, C3d, versus alum in eliciting an anti-PA humoral response and found that C3d conjugation to PA and emulsion in incomplete Freund's adjuvant (IFA) imparted superior protection from anthrax challenge relative to PA in IFA or PA adsorbed to alum. Relative to alum-PA, immunization of mice with C3d-PA/IFA augmented both the onset and sustained production of PA-specific antibodies, including neutralizing antibodies to the receptor-binding portion (domain 4) of PA. C3d-PA/IFA was efficacious when administered either i.p. or s.c., and in adolescent mice lacking a fully mature B cell compartment. Induction of PA-specific antibodies by C3d-PA/IFA correlated with increased efficiency of germinal center formation and plasma cell generation. Importantly, C3d-PA immunization effectively protected mice from intranasal challenge with B. anthracis spores, and was approximately 10-fold more effective than alum-PA immunization or PA/IFA based on dose challenge. These data suggest that incorporation of C3d as an adjuvant may overcome shortcomings of the currently licensed aluminum-based vaccine, and may confer protection in the early days following acute anthrax exposure.
PMCID: PMC2001179  PMID: 17940608
25.  Combining Anthrax Vaccine and Therapy: a Dominant-Negative Inhibitor of Anthrax Toxin Is Also a Potent and Safe Immunogen for Vaccines  
Infection and Immunity  2005;73(6):3408-3414.
Anthrax is caused by the unimpeded growth of Bacillus anthracis in the host and the secretion of toxins. The currently available vaccine is based on protective antigen (PA), a central component of anthrax toxin. Vaccination with PA raises no direct immune response against the bacilli and, being a natural toxin component, PA might be hazardous when used immediately following exposure to B. anthracis. Thus, we have sought to develop a vaccine or therapeutic agent that is safe and eliminates both secreted toxins and bacilli. To that end, we have previously developed a dually active vaccine by conjugating the capsular poly-γ-d-glutamate (PGA) with PA to elicit the production of antibodies specific for both bacilli and toxins. In the present report, we describe the improved potency of anthrax vaccines through the use of a dominant-negative inhibitory (DNI) mutant to replace PA in PA or PA-PGA vaccines. When tested in mice, DNI alone is more immunogenic than PA, and DNI-PGA conjugate elicits significantly higher levels of antibodies against PA and PGA than PA-PGA conjugate. To explain the enhanced immunogenicity of DNI, we propose that the two point mutations in DNI may have improved epitopes of PA allowing better antigen presentation to helper T cells. Alternatively, these mutations may enhance the immunological processing of PA by altering endosomal trafficking of the toxin in antigen-presenting cells. Because DNI has previously been demonstrated to inhibit anthrax toxin, postexposure use of DNI-based vaccines, including conjugate vaccines, may provide improved immunogenicity and therapeutic activity simultaneously.
PMCID: PMC1111877  PMID: 15908368

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