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1.  Mutated and Bacteriophage T4 Nanoparticle Arrayed F1-V Immunogens from Yersinia pestis as Next Generation Plague Vaccines 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(7):e1003495.
Pneumonic plague is a highly virulent infectious disease with 100% mortality rate, and its causative organism Yersinia pestis poses a serious threat for deliberate use as a bioterror agent. Currently, there is no FDA approved vaccine against plague. The polymeric bacterial capsular protein F1, a key component of the currently tested bivalent subunit vaccine consisting, in addition, of low calcium response V antigen, has high propensity to aggregate, thus affecting its purification and vaccine efficacy. We used two basic approaches, structure-based immunogen design and phage T4 nanoparticle delivery, to construct new plague vaccines that provided complete protection against pneumonic plague. The NH2-terminal β-strand of F1 was transplanted to the COOH-terminus and the sequence flanking the β-strand was duplicated to eliminate polymerization but to retain the T cell epitopes. The mutated F1 was fused to the V antigen, a key virulence factor that forms the tip of the type three secretion system (T3SS). The F1mut-V protein showed a dramatic switch in solubility, producing a completely soluble monomer. The F1mut-V was then arrayed on phage T4 nanoparticle via the small outer capsid protein, Soc. The F1mut-V monomer was robustly immunogenic and the T4-decorated F1mut-V without any adjuvant induced balanced TH1 and TH2 responses in mice. Inclusion of an oligomerization-deficient YscF, another component of the T3SS, showed a slight enhancement in the potency of F1-V vaccine, while deletion of the putative immunomodulatory sequence of the V antigen did not improve the vaccine efficacy. Both the soluble (purified F1mut-V mixed with alhydrogel) and T4 decorated F1mut-V (no adjuvant) provided 100% protection to mice and rats against pneumonic plague evoked by high doses of Y. pestis CO92. These novel platforms might lead to efficacious and easily manufacturable next generation plague vaccines.
Author Summary
Plague caused by Yersinia pestis is a deadly disease that wiped out one-third of Europe's population in the 14th century. The organism is listed by the CDC as Tier-1 biothreat agent, and currently, there is no FDA-approved vaccine against this pathogen. Stockpiling of an efficacious plague vaccine that could protect people against a potential bioterror attack has been a national priority. The current vaccines based on the capsular antigen (F1) and the low calcium response V antigen, are promising against both bubonic and pneumonic plague. However, the polymeric nature of F1 with its propensity to aggregate affects vaccine efficacy and generates varied immune responses in humans. We have addressed a series of concerns and generated mutants of F1 and V, which are completely soluble and produced in high yields. We then engineered the vaccine into a novel delivery platform using the bacteriophage T4 nanoparticle. The nanoparticle vaccines induced robust immunogenicity and provided 100% protection to mice and rats against pneumonic plague. These highly efficacious new generation plague vaccines are easily manufactured, and the potent T4 platform which can simultaneously incorporate antigens from other biothreat or emerging infectious agents provides a convenient way for mass vaccination of humans against multiple pathogens.
PMCID: PMC3708895  PMID: 23853602
2.  Immune defense against pneumonic plague 
Immunological reviews  2008;225:256-271.
Yersinia pestis is one of the world's most virulent human pathogens. Inhalation of this Gram-negative bacterium causes pneumonic plague, a rapidly progressing and usually fatal disease. Extensively antibiotic-resistant strains of Y. pestis exist and have significant potential for exploitation as agents of terrorism and biowarfare. Subunit vaccines comprised of the Y. pestis F1 and LcrV proteins are well-tolerated and immunogenic in humans but cannot be tested for efficacy, because pneumonic plague outbreaks are uncommon and intentional infection of humans is unethical. In animal models, F1/LcrV-based vaccines protect mice and cynomolgus macaques but have failed, thus far, to adequately protect African green monkeys. We lack an explanation for this inconsistent efficacy. We also lack reliable correlate assays for protective immunity. These deficiencies are hampering efforts to improve vaccine efficacy. Here, I review the immunology of pneumonic plague, focusing on evidence that humoral and cellular defense mechanisms collaborate to defend against pulmonary Y. pestis infection.
PMCID: PMC2804960  PMID: 18837787
Yersinia pestis; phagocytes; neutrophils; macrophages; antibodies; humoral immunity; cellular immunity; vaccine
3.  Yersinia pestis YopE contains a dominant CD8 T cell epitope that confers protection in a mouse model of pneumonic plague1 
Septic bacterial pneumonias are a major cause of death worldwide. Several of the highest priority bioterror concerns, including anthrax, tularemia and plague, are caused by bacteria that acutely infect the lung. Bacterial resistance to multiple antibiotics is increasingly common. Although vaccines may be our best defense against antibiotic-resistant bacteria, there has been little progress in the development of safe and effective vaccines for pulmonary bacterial pathogens. The gram-negative bacterium Yersinia pestis causes pneumonic plague, an acutely lethal septic pneumonia. Historic pandemics of plague caused millions of deaths, and the plague bacilli’s potential for weaponization sustains an ongoing quest for effective countermeasures. Subunit vaccines have failed, thus far, to fully protect non-human primates. In mice, they induce the production of antibodies that act in concert with type 1 cytokines to deliver high-level protection, however, the Y. pestis antigens recognized by cytokine-producing T cells have yet to be defined. Here, we report that Y. pestis YopE is a dominant antigen recognized by CD8 T cells in C57BL/6 mice. After vaccinating with live attenuated Y. pestis and challenging intranasally with virulent plague, nearly 20% of pulmonary CD8 T cells recognize this single, highly conserved antigen. Moreover, immunizing mice with a single peptide, YopE69-77, suffices to confer significant protection from lethal pulmonary challenge. These findings suggest YopE could be a valuable addition to subunit plague vaccines and provide a new animal model in which sensitive, pathogen-specific assays can be used to study CD8 T cell-mediated defense against acutely lethal bacterial infections of the lung.
PMCID: PMC3131430  PMID: 21653834
4.  Melioidosis Vaccines: A Systematic Review and Appraisal of the Potential to Exploit Biodefense Vaccines for Public Health Purposes 
Burkholderia pseudomallei is a Category B select agent and the cause of melioidosis. Research funding for vaccine development has largely considered protection within the biothreat context, but the resulting vaccines could be applicable to populations who are at risk of naturally acquired melioidosis. Here, we discuss target populations for vaccination, consider the cost-benefit of different vaccination strategies and review potential vaccine candidates.
Methods and Findings
Melioidosis is highly endemic in Thailand and northern Australia, where a biodefense vaccine might be adopted for public health purposes. A cost-effectiveness analysis model was developed, which showed that a vaccine could be a cost-effective intervention in Thailand, particularly if used in high-risk populations such as diabetics. Cost-effectiveness was observed in a model in which only partial immunity was assumed. The review systematically summarized all melioidosis vaccine candidates and studies in animal models that had evaluated their protectiveness. Possible candidates included live attenuated, whole cell killed, sub-unit, plasmid DNA and dendritic cell vaccines. Live attenuated vaccines were not considered favorably because of possible reversion to virulence and hypothetical risk of latent infection, while the other candidates need further development and evaluation. Melioidosis is acquired by skin inoculation, inhalation and ingestion, but routes of animal inoculation in most published studies to date do not reflect all of this. We found a lack of studies using diabetic models, which will be central to any evaluation of a melioidosis vaccine for natural infection since diabetes is the most important risk factor.
Vaccines could represent one strand of a public health initiative to reduce the global incidence of melioidosis.
Author Summary
The designation of Burkholderia pseudomallei as a category B select agent has resulted in considerable research funding to develop a protective vaccine. This bacterium also causes a naturally occurring disease (melioidosis), an important cause of death in many countries including Thailand and Australia. In this study, we explored whether a vaccine could be used to provide protection from melioidosis. An economic evaluation based on its use in Thailand indicated that a vaccine could be a cost-effective intervention if used in high-risk populations such as diabetics and those with chronic kidney or lung disease. A literature search of vaccine studies in animal models identified the current candidates, but noted that models failed to take account of the common routes of infection in natural melioidosis and major risk factors for infection, primarily diabetes. This review highlights important areas for future research if biodefence-driven vaccines are to play a role in reducing the global incidence of melioidosis.
PMCID: PMC3269417  PMID: 22303489
5.  Histopathological Observation of Immunized Rhesus Macaques with Plague Vaccines after Subcutaneous Infection of Yersinia pestis 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(4):e19260.
In our previous study, complete protection was observed in Chinese-origin rhesus macaques immunized with SV1 (20 µg F1 and 10 µg rV270) and SV2 (200 µg F1 and 100 µg rV270) subunit vaccines and with EV76 live attenuated vaccine against subcutaneous challenge with 6×106 CFU of Y. pestis. In the present study, we investigated whether the vaccines can effectively protect immunized animals from any pathologic changes using histological and immunohistochemical techniques. In addition, the glomerular basement membranes (GBMs) of the immunized animals and control animals were checked by electron microscopy. The results show no signs of histopathological lesions in the lungs, livers, kidneys, lymph nodes, spleens and hearts of the immunized animals at Day 14 after the challenge, whereas pathological alterations were seen in the corresponding tissues of the control animals. Giemsa staining, ultrastructural examination, and immunohistochemical staining revealed bacteria in some of the organs of the control animals, whereas no bacterium was observed among the immunized animals. Ultrastructural observation revealed that no glomerular immune deposits on the GBM. These observations suggest that the vaccines can effectively protect animals from any pathologic changes and eliminate Y. pestis from the immunized animals. The control animals died from multi-organ lesions specifically caused by the Y. pestis infection. We also found that subcutaneous infection of animals with Y. pestis results in bubonic plague, followed by pneumonic and septicemic plagues. The histopathologic features of plague in rhesus macaques closely resemble those of rodent and human plagues. Thus, Chinese-origin rhesus macaques serve as useful models in studying Y. pestis pathogenesis, host response and the efficacy of new medical countermeasures against plague.
PMCID: PMC3084797  PMID: 21559437
6.  Protective Immunity in Mice Achieved with Dry Powder Formulation and Alternative Delivery of Plague F1-V Vaccine▿  
The potential use of Yersinia pestis as a bioterror agent is a great concern. Development of a stable powder vaccine against Y. pestis and administration of the vaccine by minimally invasive methods could provide an alternative to the traditional liquid formulation and intramuscular injection. We evaluated a spray-freeze-dried powder vaccine containing a recombinant F1-V fusion protein of Y. pestis for vaccination against plaque in a mouse model. Mice were immunized with reconstituted spray-freeze-dried F1-V powder via intramuscular injection, microneedle-based intradermal delivery, or noninvasive intranasal administration. By intramuscular injection, the reconstituted powder induced serum antibody responses and provided protection against lethal subcutaneous challenge with 1,000 50% lethal doses of Y. pestis at levels equivalent to those elicited by unprocessed liquid formulations (70 to 90% protection). The feasibility of intradermal and intranasal delivery of reconstituted powder F1-V vaccine was also demonstrated. Overall, microneedle-based intradermal delivery was shown to be similar in efficacy to intramuscular injection, while intranasal administration required an extra dose of vaccine to achieve similar protection. In addition, the results suggest that seroconversion against F1 may be a better predictor of protection against Y. pestis challenge than seroconversion against either F1-V or V. In summary, we demonstrate the preclinical feasibility of using a reconstituted powder F1-V formulation and microneedle-based intradermal delivery to provide protective immunity against plague in a mouse model. Intranasal delivery, while feasible, was less effective than injection in this study. The potential use of these alternative delivery methods and a powder vaccine formulation may result in substantial health and economic benefits.
PMCID: PMC2681576  PMID: 19261773
7.  Development of Yersinia pestis F1 antigen-loaded microspheres vaccine against plague 
Yersinia pestis F1 antigen-loaded poly(DL-lactide-co-glycolide)/polyethylene glycol (PEG) (PLGA/PEG) microspheres were produced using a water-in-oil-in-water emulsion/solvent extraction technique and assayed for their percent yield, entrapment efficiency, surface morphology, particle size, zeta potential, in vitro release properties, and in vivo animal protect efficacy. The Y. pestis F1 antigen-loaded microspheres (mean particle size 3.8 μm) exhibited a high loading capacity (4.5% w/w), yield (85.2%), and entrapment efficiency (38.1%), and presented a controlled in vitro release profile with a low initial burst (18.5%), then continued to release Y. pestis F1 antigen over 70 days. The distribution (%) of Y. pestis F1 on the microspheres surface, outer layer, and core was 3.1%, 28.9%, and 60.7%, respectively. A steady release rate was noticed to be 0.55 μg Y. pestis F1 antigen/mg microspheres/day of Y. pestis F1 antigen release maintained for 42 days. The cumulative release amount at the 1st, 28th, and 42nd days was 8.2, 26.7, and 31.0 μg Y. pestis F1 antigen/mg microspheres, respectively. The 100 times median lethal dose 50% (LD50) of Y. pestis Yokohama-R strain by intraperitoneal injection challenge in mice test, in which mice received one dose of 40 μg F1 antigen content of PLGA/PEG microspheres, F1 antigen in Al(OH)3, and in comparison with F1 antigen in Al(OH)3 vaccine in two doses, was evaluated after given by subcutaneous immunization of BALB/c mice. The study results show that the greatest survival was observed in the group of mice immunized with one dose of F1 antigen-loaded PLGA/PEG microspheres, and two doses of F1 antigen in Al(OH)3 vaccine (100%). In vivo vaccination studies also demonstrated that F1 vaccines microspheres had a protective ability; its steady-state IgG immune protection in mice plasma dramatic increased from 2 weeks (18,764±3,124) to 7 weeks (126,468±19,176) after vaccination. These findings strongly suggest that F1-antigen loaded microspheres vaccine offer a new therapeutic strategy in optimizing the vaccine incorporation and delivery properties of these potential vaccine targeting carriers.
PMCID: PMC3926461  PMID: 24550673
PLGA; immunological; protective responses
8.  Human Immune Response to a Plague Vaccine Comprising Recombinant F1 and V Antigens  
Infection and Immunity  2005;73(6):3598-3608.
The human immune response to a new recombinant plague vaccine, comprising recombinant F1 (rF1) and rV antigens, has been assessed during a phase 1 safety and immunogenicity trial in healthy volunteers. All the subjects produced specific immunoglobulin G (IgG) in serum after the priming dose, which peaked in value after the booster dose (day 21), with the exception of one individual in the lowest dose level group, who responded to rF1 only. Three subjects, found to have an anti-rV titer at screening, were excluded from the overall analysis. Human antibody functionality has been assessed by quantification of antibody competing for binding to rV in vitro and also by the transfer of protective immunity in human serum into the naïve mouse. Human and macaque IgG competed for binding to rV in vitro with a mouse monoclonal antibody, previously shown to protect mice against challenge with plague, suggesting that this protective B-cell epitope on rV is conserved between these three species. Total IgG to rV in individuals and the titer of IgG competing for binding to rV correlated significantly at days 21 (r = 0.72; P < 0.001) and 28 (r = 0.82; P < 0.001). Passive transfer of protective immunity into mice also correlated significantly with total IgG titer to rF1 plus rV at days 21 (r2 = 98.6%; P < 0.001) and 28 (r2 = 76.8%; P < 0.03). However, no significant vaccination-related change in activation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells was detected at any time. Potential serological immune correlates of protection have been investigated, but no trends specific to vaccination could be detected in cellular markers.
PMCID: PMC1111881  PMID: 15908389
9.  Establishment of a Swiss Webster Mouse Model of Pneumonic Plague To Meet Essential Data Elements under the Animal Rule 
A recombinant vaccine (rF1V) is being developed for protection against pneumonic plague. This study was performed to address essential data elements to establish a well-characterized Swiss Webster mouse model for licensing the rF1V vaccine using the FDA's Animal Rule. These elements include the documentation of challenge material characteristics, aerosol exposure parameters, details of the onset and severity of clinical signs, pathophysiological response to disease, and relevance to human disease. Prior to animal exposures, an evaluation of the aerosol system was performed to determine and understand the variability of the aerosol exposure system. Standardized procedures for the preparation of Yersinia pestis challenge material also were developed. The 50% lethal dose (LD50) was estimated to be 1,966 CFU using Probit analysis. Following the LD50 determination, pathology was evaluated by exposing mice to a target LD99 (42,890 CFU). Mice were euthanized at 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, and 72 h postexposure. At each time point, samples were collected for clinical pathology, detection of bacteria in blood and tissues, and pathology evaluations. A general increase in incidence and severity of microscopic findings was observed in the lung, lymph nodes, spleen, and liver from 36 to 72 h postchallenge. Similarly, the incidence and severity of pneumonia increased throughout the study; however, some mice died in the absence of pneumonia, suggesting that disease progression does not require the development of pneumonia. Disease pathology in the Swiss Webster mouse is similar to that observed in humans, demonstrating the utility of this pneumonic plague model that can be used by researchers investigating plague countermeasures.
PMCID: PMC3318273  PMID: 22336286
10.  Different Pathologies but Equal Levels of Responsiveness to the Recombinant F1 and V Antigen Vaccine and Ciprofloxacin in a Murine Model of Plague Caused by Small- and Large-Particle Aerosols▿  
Infection and Immunity  2009;77(4):1315-1323.
Presently there is a significant effort to develop and evaluate vaccines and antibiotics against the potential bioterrorism agent Yersinia pestis. The animal models used to test these countermeasures involve the deposition of small particles within the lung. However, deliberate aerosol release of Y. pestis will generate both small and large inhalable particles. We report in this study that the pathogenesis patterns of plague infections caused by the deposition of 1- and 12-μm-particle aerosols of Y. pestis in the lower and upper respiratory tracts (URTs) of mice are different. The median lethal dose for 12-μm particles was 4.9-fold greater than that for 1-μm particles. The 12-μm-particle infection resulted in the degradation of the nasal mucosa and nasal-associated lymphoid tissue (NALT) plus cervical lymphadenopathy prior to bacteremic dissemination. Lung involvement was limited to secondary pneumonia. In contrast, the 1-μm-particle infection resulted in primary pneumonia; in 40% of mice, the involvement of NALT and cervical lymphadenopathy were observed, indicating entry via both URT lymphoid tissues and lungs. Despite bacterial deposition in the gastrointestinal tract, the involvement of Peyer's patches was not observed in either infection. Although there were major differences in pathogenesis, the recombinant F1 and V antigen vaccine and ciprofloxacin protected against plague infections caused by small- and large-particle aerosols.
PMCID: PMC2663150  PMID: 19188359
11.  Yersinia pestis Endowed with Increased Cytotoxicity Is Avirulent in a Bubonic Plague Model and Induces Rapid Protection against Pneumonic Plague 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(6):e5938.
An important virulence strategy evolved by bacterial pathogens to overcome host defenses is the modulation of host cell death. Previous observations have indicated that Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of plague disease, exhibits restricted capacity to induce cell death in macrophages due to ineffective translocation of the type III secretion effector YopJ, as opposed to the readily translocated YopP, the YopJ homologue of the enteropathogen Yersinia enterocolitica O∶8. This led us to suggest that reduced cytotoxic potency may allow pathogen propagation within a shielded niche, leading to increased virulence. To test the relationship between cytotoxic potential and virulence, we replaced Y. pestis YopJ with YopP. The YopP-expressing Y. pestis strain exhibited high cytotoxic activity against macrophages in vitro. Following subcutaneous infection, this strain had reduced ability to colonize internal organs, was unable to induce septicemia and exhibited at least a 107-fold reduction in virulence. Yet, upon intravenous or intranasal infection, it was still as virulent as the wild-type strain. The subcutaneous administration of the cytotoxic Y. pestis strain appears to activate a rapid and potent systemic, CTL-independent, immunoprotective response, allowing the organism to overcome simultaneous coinfection with 10,000 LD50 of virulent Y. pestis. Moreover, three days after subcutaneous administration of this strain, animals were also protected against septicemic or primary pneumonic plague. Our findings indicate that an inverse relationship exists between the cytotoxic potential of Y. pestis and its virulence following subcutaneous infection. This appears to be associated with the ability of the engineered cytotoxic Y. pestis strain to induce very rapid, effective and long-lasting protection against bubonic and pneumonic plague. These observations have novel implications for the development of vaccines/therapies against Y. pestis and shed new light on the virulence strategies of Y. pestis in nature.
PMCID: PMC2691952  PMID: 19529770
12.  Deletion of Braun Lipoprotein and Plasminogen-Activating Protease-Encoding Genes Attenuates Yersinia pestis in Mouse Models of Bubonic and Pneumonic Plague 
Infection and Immunity  2014;82(6):2485-2503.
Currently, there is no FDA-approved vaccine against Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of bubonic and pneumonic plague. Since both humoral immunity and cell-mediated immunity are essential in providing the host with protection against plague, we developed a live-attenuated vaccine strain by deleting the Braun lipoprotein (lpp) and plasminogen-activating protease (pla) genes from Y. pestis CO92. The Δlpp Δpla double isogenic mutant was highly attenuated in evoking both bubonic and pneumonic plague in a mouse model. Further, animals immunized with the mutant by either the intranasal or the subcutaneous route were significantly protected from developing subsequent pneumonic plague. In mice, the mutant poorly disseminated to peripheral organs and the production of proinflammatory cytokines concurrently decreased. Histopathologically, reduced damage to the lungs and livers of mice infected with the Δlpp Δpla double mutant compared to the level of damage in wild-type (WT) CO92-challenged animals was observed. The Δlpp Δpla mutant-immunized mice elicited a humoral immune response to the WT bacterium, as well as to CO92-specific antigens. Moreover, T cells from mutant-immunized animals exhibited significantly higher proliferative responses, when stimulated ex vivo with heat-killed WT CO92 antigens, than mice immunized with the same sublethal dose of WT CO92. Likewise, T cells from the mutant-immunized mice produced more gamma interferon (IFN-γ) and interleukin-4. These animals had an increasing number of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α)-producing CD4+ and CD8+ T cells than WT CO92-infected mice. These data emphasize the role of TNF-α and IFN-γ in protecting mice against pneumonic plague. Overall, our studies provide evidence that deletion of the lpp and pla genes acts synergistically in protecting animals against pneumonic plague, and we have demonstrated an immunological basis for this protection.
PMCID: PMC4019162  PMID: 24686064
13.  Intranasal Administration of an Inactivated Yersinia pestis Vaccine with Interleukin-12 Generates Protective Immunity against Pneumonic Plague ▿ # 
Clinical and Vaccine Immunology : CVI  2011;18(11):1925-1935.
Inhalation of Yersinia pestis causes pneumonic plague, which rapidly progresses to death. A previously licensed killed whole-cell vaccine is presently unavailable due to its reactogenicity and inconclusive evidence of efficacy. The present study now shows that vaccination intranasally (i.n.) with inactivated Y. pestis CO92 (iYp) adjuvanted with interleukin-12 (IL-12) followed by an i.n. challenge with a lethal dose of Y. pestis CO92 prevented bacterial colonization and protected 100% of mice from pneumonic plague. Survival of the vaccinated mice correlated with levels of systemic and lung antibodies, reduced pulmonary pathology and proinflammatory cytokines, and the presence of lung lymphoid cell aggregates. Protection against pneumonic plague was partially dependent upon Fc receptors and could be transferred to naïve mice with immune mouse serum. On the other hand, protection was not dependent upon complement, and following vaccination, depletion of CD4 and/or CD8 T cells before challenge did not affect survival. In summary, the results demonstrate the safety, immunogenicity, and protective efficacy of i.n. administered iYp plus IL-12 in a mouse model of pneumonic plague.
PMCID: PMC3209028  PMID: 21880856
14.  Flagellin-F1-V Fusion Protein Is an Effective Plague Vaccine in Mice and Two Species of Nonhuman Primates▿  
A number of studies have clearly demonstrated that flagellin is a potent adjuvant that promotes robust immune responses when it is given with a protein antigen. In view of the potential biological and practical benefits of a recombinant protein vaccine composed of a single fusion protein containing flagellin and antigen, we have evaluated the efficacy of a fusion protein composed of flagellin and two protective antigens of Yersinia pestis (F1 and V) in eliciting protection against respiratory challenge with Y. pestis. Flagellin-F1-V was produced and purified in high yield under good manufacturing practices conditions. The fusion protein retains full Toll-like receptor 5-stimulating activity in vitro. Using a prime-boost immunization protocol, we found that flagellin-F1-V elicits robust antigen-specific humoral immunity in mice and two species of nonhuman primates. Immune mice were fully protected against intranasal challenge with 150 mean tolerated doses of Y. pestis CO92. In immune mice, the bacteria were completely cleared within 3 days after challenge. Flagellin-F1-V exhibited full stability for at least 297 days at 4°C and at least 168 days at 25°C. At between 29 and 84 days at 37°C, the protein exhibited a loss of biological activity that appeared to be associated with a substantial change in protein diameter, possibly due to oligomerization. On the basis of our results, we believe that flagellin-F1-V is an outstanding candidate for evaluation in studies with humans.
PMCID: PMC2620661  PMID: 18987167
15.  Effective Plague Vaccination via Oral Delivery of Plant Cells Expressing F1-V Antigens in Chloroplasts ▿  
Infection and Immunity  2008;76(8):3640-3650.
The chloroplast bioreactor is an alternative to fermentation-based systems for production of vaccine antigens and biopharmaceuticals. We report here expression of the plague F1-V fusion antigen in chloroplasts. Site-specific transgene integration and homoplasmy were confirmed by PCR and Southern blotting. Mature leaves showed the highest level of transgene expression on the third day of continuous illumination, with a maximum level of 14.8% of the total soluble protein. Swiss Webster mice were primed with adjuvant-containing subcutaneous (s.c.) doses of F1-V and then boosted with either adjuvanted s.c. doses (s.c. F1-V mice) or unadjuvanted oral doses (oral F1-V mice). Oral F1-V mice had higher prechallenge serum immunoglobulin G1 (IgG1) titers than s.c. F1-V mice. The corresponding serum levels of antigen-specific IgG2a and IgA were 2 and 3 orders of magnitude lower, respectively. After vaccination, mice were exposed to an inhaled dose of 1.02 × 106 CFU of aerosolized Yersinia pestis CO92 (50% lethal dose, 6.8 × 104 CFU). All control animals died within 3 days. F1-V given s.c. (with adjuvant) protected 33% of the immunized mice, while 88% of the oral F1-V mice survived aerosolized Y. pestis challenge. A comparison of splenic Y. pestis CFU counts showed that there was a 7- to 10-log reduction in the mean bacterial burden in survivors. Taken together, these data indicate that oral booster doses effectively elicit protective immune responses in vivo. In addition, this is the first report of a plant-derived oral vaccine that protected animals from live Y. pestis challenge, bringing the likelihood of lower-cost vaccines closer to reality.
PMCID: PMC2493203  PMID: 18505806
16.  Plague vaccines: current developments and future perspectives 
Despite many decades of intensive studies of Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of plague, there is no safe and efficient vaccine against this devastating disease. A recently developed F1/V subunit vaccine candidate, which relies mainly on humoral immunity, showed promising results in animal studies; however, its efficacy in humans still has to be carefully evaluated. In addition, those developing next-generation plague vaccines need to pay particular attention to the importance of eliciting cell-mediated immunity. In this review, we analyzed the current progress in developing subunit, DNA and live carrier platforms of delivery by bacterial and viral vectors, as well as approaches for controlled attenuation of virulent strains of Y. pestis.
PMCID: PMC3630923
Plague; protective antigens; vaccine; Yersinia pestis
17.  A live attenuated strain of Yersinia pestis KIM as a vaccine against plague 
Vaccine  2011;29(16):2986-2998.
Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of plague, is a potential weapon of bioterrorism. Y. pestis evades the innate immune system by synthesizing tetra-acylated lipid A with poor Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4)-stimulating activity at 37°C, whereas hexa-acylated lipid A, a potent TLR4 agonist, is made at lower temperatures. Synthesis of Escherichia coli LpxL, which transfers the secondary laurate chain to the 2′-position of lipid A, in Y. pestis results in production of hexa-acylated lipid A at 37°C, leading to significant attenuation of virulence. Previously, we described a Y. pestis vaccine strain in which crp expression is under the control of the arabinose-regulated araC PBAD promoter, resulting in a 4-5 log reduction in virulence. To reduce the virulence of the crp promoter mutant further, we introduced E. coli lpxL into the Y. pestis chromosome. The χ10030(pCD1Ap) (ΔlpxP32::PlpxL lpxL ΔPcrp21::TT araC PBAD crp) construct likewise produced hexa-acylated lipid A at 37°C and was significantly more attenuated than strains harboring each individual mutation. The LD50 of the mutant in mice, when administered subcutaneously or intranasally was >107-times and >104-times greater than wild type, respectively. Mice immunized subcutaneously with a single dose of the mutant were completely protected against a subcutaneous challenge of 3.6 × 107 wild-type Y. pestis and significantly protected (80% survival) against a pulmonary challenge of 1.2 × 104 live cells. Intranasal immunization also provided significant protection against challenges by both routes. This mutant is an immunogenic, highly attenuated live Y. pestis construct that merits further development as a vaccine candidate.
PMCID: PMC3073832  PMID: 21320544
Yersinia pestis; lipid A; regulated delayed attenuation; plague vaccine
18.  A non-invasive in vivo imaging system to study dissemination of bioluminescent Yersinia pestis CO92 in a mouse model of pneumonic plague 
Microbial pathogenesis  2012;55:39-50.
The gold standard in microbiology for monitoring bacterial dissemination in infected animals has always been viable plate counts. This method, despite being quantitative, requires sacrificing the infected animals. Recently, however, an alternative method of in vivo imaging of bioluminescent bacteria (IVIBB) for monitoring microbial dissemination within the host has been employed. Yersina pestis is a Gram-negative bacterium capable of causing bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic plague. In this study, we compared the conventional counting of bacterial colony forming units (cfu) in the various infected tissues to IVIBB in monitoring Y. pestis dissemination in a mouse model of pneumonic plague. By using a transposon mutagenesis system harboring the luciferase (luc) gene, we screened approximately 4000 clones and obtained a fully virulent, luc-positive Y. pestis CO92 (Y. pestis-luc2) reporter strain in which transposition occurred within the largest pMT1 plasmid which possesses murine toxin and capsular antigen encoding genes. The aforementioned reporter strain and the wild-type CO92 exhibited similar growth curves, formed capsule based on immunofluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry, and had a similar LD50. Intranasal infection of mice with 15 LD50 of CO92-luc2 resulted in animal mortality by 72 h, and an increasing number of bioluminescent bacteria were observed in various mouse organs over a 24–72 h period when whole animals were imaged. However, following levofloxacin treatment (10 mg/kg/day) for 6 days 24 h post infection, no luminescence was observed after 72 h of infection, indicating that the tested antimicrobial killed bacteria preventing their detection in host peripheral tissues. Overall, we demonstrated that IVIBB is an effective and non-invasive way of monitoring bacterial dissemination in animals following pneumonic plague having strong correlation with cfu, and our reporter CO92-luc2 strain can be employed as a useful tool to monitor the efficacy of antimicrobial countermeasures in real time.
PMCID: PMC3552012  PMID: 23063826
Bioluminescent Y. pestis; pneumonic plague; in vivo imaging; levofloxacin; immunofluorescence microscopy; flow cytometry; bacterial dissemination
19.  The NlpD Lipoprotein Is a Novel Yersinia pestis Virulence Factor Essential for the Development of Plague 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(9):e7023.
Yersinia pestis is the causative agent of plague. Previously we have isolated an attenuated Y. pestis transposon insertion mutant in which the pcm gene was disrupted. In the present study, we investigated the expression and the role of pcm locus genes in Y. pestis pathogenesis using a set of isogenic surE, pcm, nlpD and rpoS mutants of the fully virulent Kimberley53 strain. We show that in Y. pestis, nlpD expression is controlled from elements residing within the upstream genes surE and pcm. The NlpD lipoprotein is the only factor encoded from the pcm locus that is essential for Y. pestis virulence. A chromosomal deletion of the nlpD gene sequence resulted in a drastic reduction in virulence to an LD50 of at least 107 cfu for subcutaneous and airway routes of infection. The mutant was unable to colonize mouse organs following infection. The filamented morphology of the nlpD mutant indicates that NlpD is involved in cell separation; however, deletion of nlpD did not affect in vitro growth rate. Trans-complementation experiments with the Y. pestis nlpD gene restored virulence and all other phenotypic defects. Finally, we demonstrated that subcutaneous administration of the nlpD mutant could protect animals against bubonic and primary pneumonic plague. Taken together, these results demonstrate that Y. pestis NlpD is a novel virulence factor essential for the development of bubonic and pneumonic plague. Further, the nlpD mutant is superior to the EV76 prototype live vaccine strain in immunogenicity and in conferring effective protective immunity. Thus it could serve as a basis for a very potent live vaccine against bubonic and pneumonic plague.
PMCID: PMC2736372  PMID: 19759820
20.  A Yersinia pestis guaBA mutant is attenuated in virulence and provides protection against plague in a mouse model of infection 
Microbial pathogenesis  2010;48(5):191-195.
There is a need to develop effective countermeasures for Yersinia pestis, the etiologic agent of plague and a potential bioterrorism agent. Salmonella and Shigella spp. deleted in the guaBA genes involved in guanine biosynthesis have been shown to be attenuated in vivo. In this study, we sought to determine whether deletion of the guaBA operon would render Y. pestis auxotrophic for guanine and avirulent; such a strain could serve as a live attenuated plague vaccine candidate. A Y. pestis guaBA mutant was generated by specific deletion of a segment of the guaBA operon, producing a guanine auxotroph that was highly attenuated in a mouse model of Y. pestis infection. Furthermore, mice vaccinated with a single dose of 7×104 CFU via the intravenous route were fully protected against subsequent lethal challenge with the Y. pestis parental strain. These findings identify guaBA as a target for deletion to generate a live attenuated plague vaccine.
PMCID: PMC2857377  PMID: 20096773
Yersinia pestis; plague; guanine; mutant; live attenuated vaccines
21.  TNFα and IFNγ contribute to F1/LcrV-targeted immune defense in mouse models of fully virulent pneumonic plague 
Vaccine  2010;29(2):357-362.
Immunization with the Yersinia pestis F1 and LcrV proteins improves survival in mouse and non-human primate models of pneumonic plague. F1- and LcrV-specific antibodies contribute to protection, however, the mechanisms of antibody-mediated defense are incompletely understood and serum antibody titers do not suffice as quantitative correlates of protection. Previously we demonstrated roles for tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFα) and gamma-interferon (IFNγ) during defense against conditionally attenuated pigmentation (pgm) locus-negative Y. pestis. Here, using intranasal challenge with fully virulent pgm-positive Y. pestis strain CO92, we demonstrate that neutralizing TNFα and IFNγ interferes with the capacity of therapeutically administered F1- or LcrV-specific antibody to reduce bacterial burden and increase survival. Moreover, using Y. pestis strain CO92 in an aerosol challenge model, we demonstrate that neutralizing TNFα and IFNγ interferes with protection conferred by immunization with recombinant F1-LcrV fusion protein vaccine (p<0.0005). These findings establish that TNFα and IFNγ contribute to protection mediated by pneumonic plague countermeasures targeting F1 and LcrV, and suggest that an individual’s capacity to produce these cytokines in response to Y. pestis challenge will be an important co-determinant of antibody-mediated defense against pneumonic plague.
PMCID: PMC2997115  PMID: 20840834
Yersinia pestis; vaccine; antibody; cytokine
22.  Antibodies and cytokines independently protect against pneumonic plague 
Vaccine  2008;26(52):6901-6907.
Yersinia pestis causes pneumonic plague, an exceptionally virulent disease for which we lack a safe and effective vaccine. Antibodies specific for the Y. pestis F1 and LcrV proteins can protect mice against pulmonary Y. pestis infection. We demonstrate that neutralizing tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFα) and gamma-interferon (IFNγ) abrogates this protection at sub-optimal levels of F1- or LcrV-specific antibody, but not at optimal levels. Moreover, we demonstrate that endogenous TNFα and IFNγ confer measurable protection in the complete absence of protective antibodies. These findings indicate that antibodies and cytokines independently protect against pneumonic plague and suggest that surrogate assays for plague vaccine efficacy should consider both the level of vaccine-induced antibody and the capacity of vaccine recipients to produce TNFα and IFNγ upon exposure to Y. pestis.
PMCID: PMC2631396  PMID: 18926869
Yersinia pestis; vaccine; antibody; cytokine
23.  Immunization with live recombinant Salmonella typhimurium aroA producing F1 antigen protects against plague. 
Infection and Immunity  1995;63(2):563-568.
An attenuated Salmonella typhimurium strain which expressed the F1 capsular antigen of Yersinia pestis was constructed by transformation of S. typhimurium SL3261 with plasmid pFGAL2a, a derivative of pUC18 which contained the caf1 gene without the leader sequence. The recombinant was used to vaccinate mice intragastrically and intravenously. The immunity induced was able to protect mice against challenge with a virulent strain of plague. Protection correlated with the induction of high titers of immunoglobulin G in serum samples and a specific T-cell response.
PMCID: PMC173032  PMID: 7822022
24.  Comparative Genomics of 2009 Seasonal Plague (Yersinia pestis) in New Mexico 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e31604.
Plague disease caused by the Gram-negative bacterium Yersinia pestis routinely affects animals and occasionally humans, in the western United States. The strains native to the North American continent are thought to be derived from a single introduction in the late 19th century. The degree to which these isolates have diverged genetically since their introduction is not clear, and new genomic markers to assay the diversity of North American plague are highly desired. To assay genetic diversity of plague isolates within confined geographic areas, draft genome sequences were generated by 454 pyrosequencing from nine environmental and clinical plague isolates. In silico assemblies of Variable Number Tandem Repeat (VNTR) loci were compared to laboratory-generated profiles for seven markers. High-confidence SNPs and small Insertion/Deletions (Indels) were compared to previously sequenced Y. pestis isolates. The resulting panel of mutations allowed clustering of the strains and tracing of the most likely evolutionary trajectory of the plague strains. The sequences also allowed the identification of new putative SNPs that differentiate the 2009 isolates from previously sequenced plague strains and from each other. In addition, new insertion points for the abundant insertion sequences (IS) of Y. pestis are present that allow additional discrimination of strains; several of these new insertions potentially inactivate genes implicated in virulence. These sequences enable whole-genome phylogenetic analysis and allow the unbiased comparison of closely related isolates of a genetically monomorphic pathogen.
PMCID: PMC3281092  PMID: 22359605
25.  A Nasal Interleukin-12 DNA Vaccine Coexpressing Yersinia pestis F1-V Fusion Protein Confers Protection against Pneumonic Plague▿  
Infection and Immunity  2008;76(10):4564-4573.
Previous studies have shown that mucosal application of interleukin-12 (IL-12) can stimulate elevated secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA) responses. Since possible exposure to plague is via Yersinia pestis-laden aerosols that results in pneumonic plague, arming both the mucosal and systemic immune systems may offer an added benefit for protective immunity. Two bicistronic plasmids were constructed that encoded the protective plague epitopes, capsular antigen (F1-Ag) and virulence antigen (V-Ag) as a F1-V fusion protein but differed in the amounts of IL-12 produced. When applied nasally, serum IgG and mucosal IgA anti-F1-Ag and anti-V-Ag titers were detectable beginning at week 6 after three weekly doses, and recombinant F1-Ag boosts were required to elevate the F1-Ag-specific antibody (Ab) titers. Following pneumonic challenge, the best efficacy was obtained in mice primed with IL-12(Low)/F1-V vaccine with 80% survival compared to mice immunized with IL-12(Low)/F1, IL-12(Low)/V, or IL-12(Low) vector DNA vaccines. Improved expression of IL-12 resulted in lost efficacy when using the IL-12(High)/F1-V DNA vaccine. Despite differences in the amount of IL-12 produced by the two F1-V DNA vaccines, Ab responses and Th cell responses to F1- and V-Ags were similar. These results show that IL-12 can be used as a molecular adjuvant to enhance protective immunity against pneumonic plague, but in a dose-dependent fashion.
PMCID: PMC2546814  PMID: 18694965

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