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1.  Substrate Binding Mode and Its Implication on Drug Design for Botulinum Neurotoxin A 
PLoS Pathogens  2008;4(9):e1000165.
The seven antigenically distinct serotypes of Clostridium botulinum neurotoxins, the causative agents of botulism, block the neurotransmitter release by specifically cleaving one of the three SNARE proteins and induce flaccid paralysis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared them as Category A biowarfare agents. The most potent among them, botulinum neurotoxin type A (BoNT/A), cleaves its substrate synaptosome-associated protein of 25 kDa (SNAP-25). An efficient drug for botulism can be developed only with the knowledge of interactions between the substrate and enzyme at the active site. Here, we report the crystal structures of the catalytic domain of BoNT/A with its uncleavable SNAP-25 peptide 197QRATKM202 and its variant 197RRATKM202 to 1.5 Å and 1.6 Å, respectively. This is the first time the structure of an uncleavable substrate bound to an active botulinum neurotoxin is reported and it has helped in unequivocally defining S1 to S5′ sites. These substrate peptides make interactions with the enzyme predominantly by the residues from 160, 200, 250 and 370 loops. Most notably, the amino nitrogen and carbonyl oxygen of P1 residue (Gln197) chelate the zinc ion and replace the nucleophilic water. The P1′-Arg198, occupies the S1′ site formed by Arg363, Thr220, Asp370, Thr215, Ile161, Phe163 and Phe194. The S2′ subsite is formed by Arg363, Asn368 and Asp370, while S3′ subsite is formed by Tyr251, Leu256, Val258, Tyr366, Phe369 and Asn388. P4′-Lys201 makes hydrogen bond with Gln162. P5′-Met202 binds in the hydrophobic pocket formed by the residues from the 250 and 200 loop. Knowledge of interactions between the enzyme and substrate peptide from these complex structures should form the basis for design of potent inhibitors for this neurotoxin.
Author Summary
Botulinum neurotoxins are the most poisonous substance to humans. The ease with which the bacteria can be grown, its potency and persistence have made it a potential bioterrorism agent, and accordingly, botulinum neurotoxin has been declared as Category A agent by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Since it is both a potential bioweapon and a bioterrorism agent, it is imperative to develop counter measures and therapeutics for these neurotoxins, as none are available so far except experimental vaccines and an FDA-approved equine antitoxin. Our work presented here is an important milestone towards achieving this goal. The best antidote can be developed by blocking the active site of any enzyme. The crystal structures of substrate peptide–enzyme complex presented here map the interactions between the two and provide critical information for designing effective drugs against this toxin.
PMCID: PMC2533696  PMID: 18818739
2.  Making vaccines “on demand” 
Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics  2013;9(9):1877-1884.
The integrated US Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasures Enterprise (PHEMCE) has made great strides in strategic preparedness and response capabilities. There have been numerous advances in planning, biothreat countermeasure development, licensure, manufacturing, stockpiling and deployment. Increased biodefense surveillance capability has dramatically improved, while new tools and increased awareness have fostered rapid identification of new potential public health pathogens. Unfortunately, structural delays in vaccine design, development, manufacture, clinical testing and licensure processes remain significant obstacles to an effective national biodefense rapid response capability. This is particularly true for the very real threat of “novel pathogens” such as the avian-origin influenzas H7N9 and H5N1, and new coronaviruses such as hCoV-EMC. Conventional approaches to vaccine development, production, clinical testing and licensure are incompatible with the prompt deployment needed for an effective public health response. An alternative approach, proposed here, is to apply computational vaccine design tools and rapid production technologies that now make it possible to engineer vaccines for novel emerging pathogen and WMD biowarfare agent countermeasures in record time. These new tools have the potential to significantly reduce the time needed to design string-of-epitope vaccines for previously unknown pathogens. The design process—from genome to gene sequence, ready to insert in a DNA plasmid—can now be accomplished in less than 24 h. While these vaccines are by no means “standard,” the need for innovation in the vaccine design and production process is great. Should such vaccines be developed, their 60-d start-to-finish timeline would represent a 2-fold faster response than the current standard.
PMCID: PMC3906351  PMID: 23877094
biothreat; medical countermeasure; H7N9; H5N1; SARS; coronavirus; immunoinformatics; vaccine; emerging infectious disease
3.  Antibodies for biodefense 
mAbs  2011;3(6):517-527.
Potential bioweapons are biological agents (bacteria, viruses and toxins) at risk of intentional dissemination. Biodefense, defined as development of therapeutics and vaccines against these agents, has seen an increase, particularly in the US, following the 2001 anthrax attack. This review focuses on recombinant antibodies and polyclonal antibodies for biodefense that have been accepted for clinical use. These antibodies aim to protect against primary potential bioweapons or category A agents as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Bacillus anthracis, Yersinia pestis, Francisella tularensis, botulinum neurotoxins, smallpox virus and certain others causing viral hemorrhagic fevers) and certain category B agents. Potential for prophylactic use is presented, as well as frequent use of oligoclonal antibodies or synergistic effect with other molecules. Capacities and limitations of antibodies for use in biodefense are discussed, and are generally applicable to the field of infectious diseases.
PMCID: PMC3242838  PMID: 22123065
antibody; anthrax; plague; smallpox; botulism; tularemia; brucellosis; hemorrhagic; ricin; SEB
4.  Inhalational Botulism in Rhesus Macaques Exposed to Botulinum Neurotoxin Complex Serotypes A1 and B1▿ †  
A recombinant botulinum vaccine (rBV A/B) is being developed for protection against inhalational intoxication with botulinum neurotoxin (BoNT) complex serotype A, subtype A1 (BoNT/A1), and BoNT serotype B, subtype B1 (BoNT/B1). A critical component for evaluating rBV A/B efficacy will be the use of animal models in which the pathophysiology and dose-response relationships following aerosol exposure to well-characterized BoNT are thoroughly understood and documented. This study was designed to estimate inhaled 50% lethal doses (LD50) and to estimate 50% lethal exposure concentrations relative to time (LCt50) in rhesus macaques exposed to well-characterized BoNT/A1 and BoNT/B1. During the course of this study, clinical observations, body weights, clinical hematology results, clinical chemistry results, circulating neurotoxin levels, and telemetric parameters were documented to aid in the understanding of disease progression. The inhaled LD50 and LCt50 for BoNT/A1 and BoNT/B1 in rhesus macaques were determined using well-characterized challenge material. Clinical observations were consistent with the recognized pattern of botulism disease progression. A dose response was demonstrated with regard to the onset of these clinical signs for both BoNT/A1 and BoNT/B1. Dose-related changes in physiologic parameters measured by telemetry were also observed. In contrast, notable changes in body weight, hematology, and clinical chemistry parameters were not observed. Circulating levels of BoNT/B1 were detected in animals exposed to the highest levels of BoNT/B1; however, BoNT/A1 was not detected in the circulation at any aerosol exposure level. The rhesus macaque aerosol challenge model will be used for future evaluations of rBV A/B efficacy against inhalational BoNT/A1 and BoNT/B1 intoxication.
PMCID: PMC2944462  PMID: 20660138
5.  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
6.  Prevention of pneumonic plague in mice, rats, guinea pigs and non-human primates with clinical grade rV10, rV10-2 or F1-V vaccines 
Vaccine  2011;29(38):6572-6583.
Yersinia pestis causes plague, a disease with high mortality in humans that can be transmitted by fleabite or aerosol. A US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-licensed plague vaccine is currently not available. Vaccine developers have focused on two subunits of Y. pestis: LcrV, a protein at the tip of type III secretion needles, and F1, the fraction 1 pilus antigen. F1-V, a hybrid generated via translational fusion of both antigens, is being developed for licensure as a plague vaccine. The rV10 vaccine is a non-toxigenic variant of LcrV lacking residues 271–300. Here we developed Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) protocols for rV10. Comparison of clinical grade rV10 with F1-V did not reveal significant differences in plague protection in mice, guinea pigs or cynomolgus macaques. We also developed cGMP protocols for rV10-2, a variant of rV10 with an altered affinity tag. Immunization with rV10-2 adsorbed to aluminum hydroxide elicited antibodies against LcrV and conferred pneumonic plague protection in mice, rats, guinea pigs, cynomolgus macaques and African Green monkeys. The data support further development of rV10-2 for FDA Investigational New Drug (IND) authorization review and clinical testing.
PMCID: PMC3538834  PMID: 21763383
7.  Ambient Stable Quantitative PCR Reagents for the Detection of Yersinia pestis 
Although assays for detecting Yersinia pestis using TaqMan probe-based real-time PCR have been developed for years, little is reported on room-temperature-stable PCR reagents, which will be invaluable for field epidemic surveillance, immediate response to public health emergencies, counter-bioterrorism investigation, etc. In this work, a set of real-time PCR reagents for rapid detection of Y. pestis was developed with extraordinary stability at 37°C.
Methods/Principal Findings
TaqMan-based real-time PCR assays were developed using the primers and probes targeting the 3a sequence in the chromosome and the F1 antigen gene caf1 in the plasmid pMT1of Y. pestis, respectively. Then, carbohydrate mixtures were added to the PCR reagents, which were later vacuum-dried for stability evaluation. The vacuum-dried reagents were stable at 37°C for at least 49 days for a lower concentration of template DNA (10 copies/µl), and up to 79 days for higher concentrations (≥102 copies/µl). The reagents were used subsequently to detect soil samples spiked with Y. pestis vaccine strain EV76, and 5×104 CFU per gram of soil could be detected by both 3a- and caf1-based PCR reagents. In addition, a simple and efficient method for soil sample processing is presented here.
The vacuum-dried reagents for real-time PCR maintain accuracy and reproducibility for at least 49 days at 37°C, indicating that they can be easily transported at room temperature for field application if the machine for performing real-time PCR is available. This dry reagent is of great significance for routine plague surveillance.
Author Summary
Plague, caused by Yersinia pestis, is one of the oldest and most dangerous diseases in human history, and has claimed millions of lives in the three major historical pandemics. Although panic caused by the Black Death is fading, the threat of the reemergence of plague pandemics still exists, with the additional potential of misuse in biowarfare or bioterrorism. Rapid on-site detection and identification of the pathogen is of paramount significance for timely implementation of effective countermeasures. TaqMan probe-based real-time PCR assays can give quick and accurate identification; however, the need for cold delivery and storage prevents its potential on-site application. The objective of this study was to develop a stable PCR system for easy delivery and storage under room temperature, which is vital for conventional plague surveillance and for preparedness in public health emergencies. We present a solution to this particular issue, hoping that it is helpful to future applications.
PMCID: PMC2834737  PMID: 20231881
8.  Developing live vaccines against Yersinia pestis 
Three great plague pandemics caused by the gram-negative bacterium Yersinia pestis have killed nearly 200 million people and it has been linked to biowarfare in the past. Plague is endemic in many parts of the world. In addition, the risk of plague as a bioweapon has prompted increased research to develop plague vaccines against this disease. Injectable subunit vaccines are being developed in the United States and United Kingdom. However, the live attenuated Y. pestis-EV NIIEG strain has been used as a vaccine for more than 70 years in the former Soviet Union and in some parts of Asia and provides a high degree of efficacy against plague. This vaccine has not gained general acceptance because of safety concerns. In recent years, modern molecular biological techniques have been applied to Y. pestis to construct strains with specific defined mutations designed to create safe, immunogenic vaccines with potential for use in humans and as bait vaccines to reduce the load of Y. pestis in the environment. In addition, a number of live, vectored vaccines have been reported using attenuated viral vectors or attenuated Salmonella strains to deliver plague antigens. Here we summarize the progress of live attenuated vaccines against plague.
PMCID: PMC3932668  PMID: 21918302
Yersinia pestis; plague; live vaccines
9.  Binary Bacterial Toxins: Biochemistry, Biology, and Applications of Common Clostridium and Bacillus Proteins 
Certain pathogenic species of Bacillus and Clostridium have developed unique methods for intoxicating cells that employ the classic enzymatic “A-B” paradigm for protein toxins. The binary toxins produced by B. anthracis, B. cereus, C. botulinum, C. difficile, C. perfringens, and C. spiroforme consist of components not physically associated in solution that are linked to various diseases in humans, animals, or insects. The “B” components are synthesized as precursors that are subsequently activated by serine-type proteases on the targeted cell surface and/or in solution. Following release of a 20-kDa N-terminal peptide, the activated “B” components form homoheptameric rings that subsequently dock with an “A” component(s) on the cell surface. By following an acidified endosomal route and translocation into the cytosol, “A” molecules disable a cell (and host organism) via disruption of the actin cytoskeleton, increasing intracellular levels of cyclic AMP, or inactivation of signaling pathways linked to mitogen-activated protein kinase kinases. Recently, B. anthracis has gleaned much notoriety as a biowarfare/bioterrorism agent, and of primary interest has been the edema and lethal toxins, their role in anthrax, as well as the development of efficacious vaccines and therapeutics targeting these virulence factors and ultimately B. anthracis. This review comprehensively surveys the literature and discusses the similarities, as well as distinct differences, between each Clostridium and Bacillus binary toxin in terms of their biochemistry, biology, genetics, structure, and applications in science and medicine. The information may foster future studies that aid novel vaccine and drug development, as well as a better understanding of a conserved intoxication process utilized by various gram-positive, spore-forming bacteria.
PMCID: PMC515256  PMID: 15353562
10.  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
11.  HSP70 Domain II of Mycobacterium tuberculosis Modulates Immune Response and Protective Potential of F1 and LcrV Antigens of Yersinia pestis in a Mouse Model 
No ideal vaccine exists to control plague, a deadly dangerous disease caused by Yersinia pestis. In this context, we cloned, expressed and purified recombinant F1, LcrV antigens of Y. pestis and heat shock protein70 (HSP70) domain II of M. tuberculosis in E. coli. To evaluate the protective potential of each purified protein alone or in combination, Balb/C mice were immunized. Humoral and cell mediated immune responses were evaluated. Immunized animals were challenged with 100 LD50 of Y. pestis via intra-peritoneal route. Vaccine candidates i.e., F1 and LcrV generated highly significant titres of anti-F1 and anti-LcrV IgG antibodies. A significant difference was noticed in the expression level of IL-2, IFN-γ and TNF-α in splenocytes of immunized animals. Significantly increased percentages of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells producing IFN-γ in spleen of vaccinated animals were observed in comparison to control group by flow cytometric analysis. We investigated whether the F1, LcrV and HSP70(II) antigens alone or in combination can effectively protect immunized animals from any histopathological changes. Signs of histopathological lesions noticed in lung, liver, kidney and spleen of immunized animals on 3rd day post challenge whereas no lesions in animals that survived to day 20 post-infection were observed. Immunohistochemistry showed bacteria in lung, liver, spleen and kidney on 3rd day post-infection whereas no bacteria was observed on day 20 post-infection in surviving animals in LcrV, LcrV+HSP70(II), F1+LcrV, and F1+LcrV+HSP70(II) vaccinated groups. A significant difference was observed in the expression of IL-2, IFN-γ, TNF-α, and CD4+/CD8+ T cells secreting IFN-γ in the F1+LcrV+HSP70(II) vaccinated group in comparison to the F1+LcrV vaccinated group. Three combinations that included LcrV+HSP70(II), F1+LcrV or F1+LcrV+HSP70(II) provided 100% protection, whereas LcrV alone provided only 75% protection. These findings suggest that HSP70(II) of M. tuberculosis can be a potent immunomodulator for F1 and LcrV containing vaccine candidates against plague.
Author Summary
Efforts are in progress by various scientific groups towards the development of plague vaccines. However, lack of better understanding about the Y. pestis infection mechanisms and pathogenesis prevents the development of an effective vaccine. In our effort to develop a more efficacious plague vaccine, we evaluated the role of HSP70 (domain II) of M. tuberculosis in formulation with the F1 and LcrV subunits of Y. pestis vaccine candidates. It is well documented that the F1 and LcrV alone does not always provide complete protection whereas a mixture of the F1+LcrV provides 100% protection in mouse model but poorly protect African green monkey models. In this study, LcrV provided 100% protection in formulation with HSP70(II) whereas LcrV alone could provide only 75% protection in Y. pestis challenged mice. Two another combinations i.e., F1+LcrV and F1+LcrV+HSP70(II) also provided 100% protection whereas HSP70(II) or F1 alone failed to protect. HSP70(II) also modulated cellular immune response as the significantly elevated levels of IL-2, IFN-γ, TNF-α and IFN-γ secreting CD4+/CD8+ T cells were noticed in spleen of F1+LcrV+HSP70(II) group in comparison to the F1+LcrV group. These findings describe the role of HSP70(II) and propose future perspectives for development of new generation plague vaccine.
PMCID: PMC4256173  PMID: 25474358
12.  Adenovirus-Mediated Delivery of an Anti-V Antigen Monoclonal Antibody Protects Mice against a Lethal Yersinia pestis Challenge▿  
Infection and Immunity  2009;77(4):1561-1568.
Pneumonic plague, caused by inhalation of Yersinia pestis, represents a major bioterrorism threat for which no vaccine is available. Based on the knowledge that genetic delivery of monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) with adenovirus (Ad) gene transfer vectors results in rapid, high-level antibody expression, we evaluated the hypothesis that Ad-mediated delivery of a neutralizing antibody directed against the Y. pestis V antigen would protect mice against a Y. pestis challenge. MAbs specific for the Y. pestis V antigen were generated, and the most effective in protecting mice against a lethal intranasal Y. pestis challenge was chosen for further study. The coding sequences for the heavy and light chains were isolated from the corresponding hybridoma and inserted into a replication-defective serotype 5 human Ad gene transfer vector (AdαV). Western analysis of AdαV-infected cell supernatants demonstrated completely assembled antibodies reactive with V antigen. Following AdαV administration to mice, high levels of anti-V antigen antibody titers were detectable as early as 1 day postadministration, peaked by day 3, and remained detectable through a 12-week time course. When animals that received AdαV were challenged with Y. pestis at day 4 post-AdαV administration, 80% of the animals were protected, while 0% of control animals survived (P < 0.01). Ad-mediated delivery of a V antigen-neutralizing antibody is an effective therapy against plague in experimental animals and could be developed as a rapidly acting antiplague therapeutic.
PMCID: PMC2663162  PMID: 19124600
13.  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
14.  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
15.  Efficacy and safety of a modified vaccinia Ankara (MVA) vectored plague vaccine in mice 
Vaccine  2010;28(36):5891-5899.
The efficacy and safety of plague vaccines based on the modified vaccinia Ankara (MVA) viral vector was evaluated. MVA recombinants were constructed expressing Yersinia pestis antigens under the translational control of the encephalomyocarditis virus (EMCV) internal ribosomal entry site (IRES) and/or fused to the tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) secretory signal. A MVA/Y. pestis recombinant that expressed a truncated version of the low-calcium response V antigen (MVA/IRES/tPA/V307), conferred significant protection (87.5%–100%) against intranasal or intraperitoneal challenge with CO92 (encapsulated) or Java 9 (non-encapsulated) strains of Y pestis, respectively. In contrast, a MVA/Y. pestis recombinant that expressed the full-length V antigen provided only 37.5% protection against challenge with CO92 or Java 9 strains, respectively. Interestingly, a MVA/Y. pestis recombinant that expressed the capsular protein (F1) did not elicit significant antibody titers but still conferred 50% and 25% protection against CO92 or Java 9 challenge, respectively. The MVA/Y. pestis recombinant viruses did not demonstrate any mortality or morbidity in SCID mice. Based on their safety and efficacy in mice, these MVA/Y. pestis recombinants are candidates for further development as biodefense and public health vaccines.
PMCID: PMC3560410  PMID: 20638759
16.  Implications of the licensure of a partially efficacious malaria vaccine on evaluating second-generation vaccines 
BMC Medicine  2013;11:232.
Malaria is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality, with approximately 225 million clinical episodes and >1.2 million deaths annually attributed to malaria. Development of a highly efficacious malaria vaccine will offer unparalleled possibilities for disease prevention and remains a key priority for long-term malaria control and elimination.
The Malaria Vaccine Technology Roadmap’s goal is to 'develop and license a first-generation malaria vaccine that has protective efficacy of more than 50%’. To date, malaria vaccine candidates have only been shown to be partially efficacious (approximately 30% to 60%). However, licensure of a partially effective vaccine will create a number of challenges for the development and progression of new, potentially more efficacious, malaria vaccines in the future. In this opinion piece we discuss the methodological, logistical and ethical issues that may impact on the feasibility and implementation of superiority, non-inferiority and equivalence trials to assess second generation malaria vaccines in the advent of the licensure of a partially efficacious malaria vaccine.
Selecting which new malaria vaccines go forward, and defining appropriate methodology for assessment in logistically challenging clinical trials, is crucial. It is imperative that the scientific community considers all the issues and starts planning how second-generation malaria vaccines will advance in the advent of licensure of a partially effective vaccine.
PMCID: PMC4225678  PMID: 24228861
Malaria; Vaccine; Clinical trials
17.  An Objective Approach for Burkholderia pseudomallei Strain Selection as Challenge Material for Medical Countermeasures Efficacy Testing 
Burkholderia pseudomallei is the causative agent of melioidosis, a rare disease of biodefense concern with high mortality and extreme difficulty in treatment. No human vaccines are available that protect against B. pseudomallei infection, and with the current limitations of antibiotic treatment, the development of new preventative and therapeutic interventions is crucial. Although clinical trials could be used to test the efficacy of new medical countermeasures (MCMs), the high mortality rates associated with melioidosis raises significant ethical issues concerning treating individuals with new compounds with unknown efficacies. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has formulated a set of guidelines for the licensure of new MCMs to treat diseases in which it would be unethical to test the efficacy of these drugs in humans. The FDA “Animal Rule” 21 CFR 314 calls for consistent, well-characterized B. pseudomallei strains to be used as challenge material in animal models. In order to facilitate the efficacy testing of new MCMs for melioidosis using animal models, we intend to develop a well-characterized panel of strains for use. This panel will comprise of strains that were isolated from human cases, have a low passage history, are virulent in animal models, and are well-characterized phenotypically and genotypically. We have reviewed published and unpublished data on various B. pseudomallei strains to establish an objective method for selecting the strains to be included in the panel of B. pseudomallei strains with attention to five categories: animal infection models, genetic characterization, clinical and passage history, and availability of the strain to the research community. We identified 109 strains with data in at least one of the five categories, scored each strain based on the gathered data and identified six strains as candidate for a B. pseudomallei strain panel.
PMCID: PMC3458228  PMID: 23057010
pseudomallei; aerosol; biodefense; animal models; virulence; genome; sequencing; passage history
18.  Frequency of Adverse Events after Vaccination with Different Vaccinia Strains 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(8):e272.
Large quantities of smallpox vaccine have been stockpiled to protect entire nations against a possible reintroduction of smallpox. Planning for an appropriate use of these stockpiled vaccines in response to a smallpox outbreak requires a rational assessment of the risks of vaccination-related adverse events, compared to the risk of contracting an infection. Although considerable effort has been made to understand the dynamics of smallpox transmission in modern societies, little attention has been paid to estimating the frequency of adverse events due to smallpox vaccination. Studies exploring the consequences of smallpox vaccination strategies have commonly used a frequency of approximately one death per million vaccinations, which is based on a study of vaccination with the New York City Board of Health (NYCBH) strain of vaccinia virus. However, a multitude of historical studies of smallpox vaccination with other vaccinia strains suggest that there are strain-related differences in the frequency of adverse events after vaccination. Because many countries have stockpiled vaccine based on the Lister strain of vaccinia virus, a quantitative evaluation of the adverse effects of such vaccines is essential for emergency response planning. We conducted a systematic review and statistical analysis of historical data concerning vaccination against smallpox with different strains of vaccinia virus.
Methods and Findings
We analyzed historical vaccination data extracted from the literature. We extracted data on the frequency of postvaccinal encephalitis and death with respect to vaccinia strain and age of vaccinees. Using a hierarchical Bayesian approach for meta-analysis, we estimated the expected frequencies of postvaccinal encephalitis and death with respect to age at vaccination for smallpox vaccines based on the NYCBH and Lister vaccinia strains. We found large heterogeneity between findings from different studies and a time-period effect that showed decreasing incidences of adverse events over several decades. To estimate death rates, we then restricted our analysis to more-recent studies. We estimated that vaccination with the NYCBH strain leads to an average of 1.4 deaths per million vaccinations (95% credible interval, 0–6) and that vaccination with Lister vaccine leads to an average of 8.4 deaths per million vaccinations (95% credible interval, 0–31). We combined age-dependent estimates of the frequency of death after vaccination and revaccination with demographic data to obtain estimates of the expected number of deaths in present societies due to vaccination with the NYCBH and Lister vaccinia strains.
Previous analyses of smallpox vaccination policies, which rely on the commonly assumed value of one death per million vaccinations, may give serious underestimates of the number of deaths resulting from vaccination. Moreover, because there are large, strain-dependent differences in the frequency of adverse events due to smallpox vaccination, it is difficult to extrapolate from predictions for the NYCBH-derived vaccines (stockpiled in countries such as the US) to predictions for the Lister-derived vaccines (stockpiled in countries such as Germany). In planning for an effective response to a possible smallpox outbreak, public-health decision makers should reconsider their strategies of when to opt for ring vaccination and when to opt for mass vaccination.
Analysis of historical data for adverse events suggests that the commonly assumed number of one death per million vaccinations is inaccurate. Large differences between different vaccinia strains used should be taken into account when mass vaccinations are considered.
Editors' Summary
For thousands of years, smallpox was one of the world's most-feared diseases. This contagious disease, caused by the variola virus, historically killed about 30 percent of the people it infected. Over the centuries, it probably killed more people than all other infectious diseases combined, but it was also the first disease to be prevented by vaccination. In 1796, the English physician Edward Jenner rubbed pus from the spots of a milkmaid with cowpox into scratches on a young boy's arm; according to folklore, people who caught cowpox, a related but mild disease of cows, were protected against smallpox. Six weeks later, after a mild bout of cowpox, when the boy was challenged with pus from a smallpox patient, he did not develop smallpox. This vaccination procedure was later refined so that people were inoculated with pure preparations of live vaccinia virus, which is closely related to the smallpox and cowpox viruses, and by 1979 a global vaccination campaign had totally eradicated the disease.
Why Was This Study Done?
Smallpox vaccination has some adverse effects. In particular, vaccinia virus occasionally infects the brain. This so-called post-vaccination encephalitis can cause permanent brain damage and, it has been estimated, kills one vaccinee in every million. Consequently, as smallpox became rarer, the dangers of vaccination began to outweigh its benefits. Routine smallpox vaccination stopped in the US in 1972, and in 1980 the World Health Organization recommended that all countries stop vaccination. Now, however, there are fears that smallpox may be used for bioterrorism. If this did happen, exposed individuals and their contacts, possibly even whole populations, would have to be vaccinated as quickly as possible (very few people now have strong immunity to smallpox). Many countries have stockpiles of smallpox vaccines for this eventuality, but these contain different vaccinia virus strains. In this study, the researchers examined historical data to discover whether these strains differ in their potential to cause encephalitis and death. This information should help public-health officials plan their vaccination strategies in response to a bioterrorism attack with smallpox.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers collected data from published studies on smallpox vaccination and adverse events from several countries from the late 1950s onwards. They then used these data to extrapolate how often the different vaccinia strains might cause encephalitis and death if they were used today in vaccination programs. They estimate that vaccinating with the New York City Board of Health (NYCBH) strain, which is stockpiled in the US, might cause 2.9 cases of post-vaccination encephalitis and 1.4 deaths per million vaccinated individuals. In contrast, the Lister strain, which is stockpiled in many European countries, might cause 26.2 cases of post-vaccination encephalitis and 2.5 deaths per million vaccinees. For both strains, vaccination of children younger than 1 year old would cause the highest death rate, and individuals being re-vaccinated would be less likely to die than those being vaccinated for the first time. Finally, the researchers use their figures to estimate that about ten people would die if mass vaccination with the NYCBH strain were used in the Netherlands (population 16 million), whereas 55 people would die if the Lister strain were used.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The data used in this study are of variable quality, so the figures calculated by the researchers are only estimates. For instance, given the scatter of the original data, mass vaccination in the Netherlands with the Lister strain might cause anywhere between seven and nearly 200 deaths. However, the study clearly suggests that more serious adverse events would occur after vaccination with the Lister strain than after vaccination with the NYCBH strain. It also indicates that even in the US, where the NYCBH vaccine strain is stockpiled, previous analyses of the effects of vaccination in response to a bioterrorist attack have probably underestimated how many people might die from post-vaccination encephalitis. Public-health decision makers should incorporate these new estimates into their planning for a smallpox outbreak. These increased estimates of adverse events after vaccination might, for example, make mass vaccination with the Lister strain of vaccinia virus less acceptable. Instead, public-health officials might decide to rely on vaccination of only the people directly exposed to released smallpox virus and their close contacts (ring vaccination) to contain a smallpox outbreak.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
World Health Organization, information on smallpox and preparedness in the event of a smallpox outbreak
MedlinePlus encyclopedia entry on smallpox
US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, patient fact sheet on smallpox
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, information for patients and professionals on smallpox
Wikipedia page on smallpox (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
Wellcome Library MedHist, links to information on the history of smallpox vaccination
PMCID: PMC1551910  PMID: 16933957
19.  Report from the field 
Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics  2013;9(7):1555-1557.
The Sixth Annual Vaccine Renaissance Conference, hosted by the Institute for Immunology and Informatics (iCubed) at the University of Rhode Island (URI), took place on October 15–17, 2012. This conference provides a forum for the review of current progress in the discovery and development of vaccines, and creates an environment for the exchange of ideas. Dr. Joel McCleary opened the conference with a warning about the importance of preparing for well-defined biowarfare threats, including tularemia and Staphylococcal enterotoxin B. Following the keynote address, sessions explored biodefense and preparation for pandemic and biowarfare threats; vaccines for emerging and re-emerging neglected tropical diseases; animal vaccines and human health; and vaccine vectors and the human microbiome. In this issue of Human Vaccines and Immunotherapeutics, seven Vaccine Renaissance Conference speakers will showcase their work; here, we describe a few of the conference highlights.
PMCID: PMC3974885  PMID: 23732897
vaccines; immunoinformatics; biodefense; emerging infectious diseases; neglected tropical diseases; animal vaccines; vaccine design; T cell epitope; immunomodulation
20.  Characterization of Botulinum Neurotoxin Type A Neutralizing Monoclonal Antibodies and Influence of Their Half-Lives on Therapeutic Activity 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(8):e12416.
Botulinum toxins, i.e. BoNT/A to/G, include the most toxic substances known. Since botulism is a potentially fatal neuroparalytic disease with possible use as a biowarfare weapon (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention category A bioterrorism agent), intensive efforts are being made to develop vaccines or neutralizing antibodies. The use of active fragments from non-human immunoglobulins (F(ab')2, Fab', scFv), chemically modified or not, may avoid side effects, but also largely modify the in vivo half-life and effectiveness of these reagents. We evaluated the neutralizing activity of several monoclonal anti-BoNT/A antibodies (mAbs). F(ab')2 fragments, native or treated with polyethyleneglycol (PEG), were prepared from selected mAbs to determine their half-life and neutralizing activity as compared with the initial mAbs. We compared the protective efficiency of the different biochemical forms of anti-toxin mAbs providing the same neutralizing activity. Among fourteen tested mAbs, twelve exhibited neutralizing activity. Fragments from two of the best mAbs (TA12 and TA17), recognizing different epitopes, were produced. These two mAbs neutralized the A1 subtype of the toxin more efficiently than the A2 or A3 subtypes. Since mAb TA12 and its fragments both exhibited the greatest neutralizing activity, they were further evaluated in the therapeutic experiments. These showed that, in a mouse model, a 2- to 4-h interval between toxin and antitoxin injection allows the treatment to remain effective, but also suggested an absence of correlation between the half-life of the antitoxins and the length of time before treatment after botulinum toxin A contamination. These experiments demonstrate that PEG treatment has a strong impact on the half-life of the fragments, without affecting the effectiveness of neutralization, which was maintained after preparation of the fragments. These reagents may be useful for rapid treatment after botulinum toxin A contamination.
PMCID: PMC2928723  PMID: 20865035
21.  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
22.  Choice of inbred rat strain impacts lethality and disease course after respiratory infection with Rift Valley Fever Virus 
Humans infected with Rift Valley Fever Virus (RVFV) generally recover after a febrile illness; however, a proportion of patients progress to a more severe clinical outcome such as hemorrhagic fever or meningoencephalitis. RVFV is naturally transmitted to livestock and humans by mosquito bites, but it is also infectious through inhalational exposure, making it a potential bioterror weapon. To better understand the disease caused by inhalation of RVFV, Wistar-Furth, ACI, or Lewis rats were exposed to experimental aerosols containing virulent RVFV. Wistar-Furth rats developed a rapidly progressing lethal hepatic disease after inhalational exposure; ACI rats were 100-fold less susceptible and developed fatal encephalitis after infection. Lewis rats, which do not succumb to parenteral inoculation with RVFV, developed fatal encephalitis after aerosol infection. RVFV was found in the liver, lung, spleen, heart, kidney and brain of Wistar Furth rats that succumbed after aerosol exposure. In contrast, RVFV was found only in the brains of ACI or Lewis rats that succumbed after aerosol exposure. Lewis rats that survived s.c. infection were not protected against subsequent re-challenge by aerosol exposure to the homologous virus. This is the first side-by-side comparison of the lethality and pathogenesis of RVFV in three rat strains after aerosol exposure and the first step toward developing a rodent model suitable for use under the FDA Animal Rule to test potential vaccines and therapeutics for aerosol exposure to RVFV.
PMCID: PMC3417668  PMID: 22919694
Rift Valley Fever Virus; aerosol exposure; respiratory infection; LD50; inbred rat strain
23.  Immunogenicity of botulinum toxins 
Journal of Neural Transmission  2012;120(2):275-290.
Botulinum neurotoxins are formulated biologic pharmaceuticals used therapeutically to treat a wide variety of chronic conditions, with varying governmental approvals by country. Some of these disorders include cervical dystonia, post-stroke spasticity, blepharospasm, migraine, and hyperhidrosis. Botulinum neurotoxins also have varying governmental approvals for cosmetic applications. As botulinum neurotoxin therapy is often continued over many years, some patients may develop detectable antibodies that may or may not affect their biological activity. Although botulinum neurotoxins are considered “lower risk” biologics since antibodies that may develop are not likely to cross react with endogenous proteins, it is possible that patients may lose their therapeutic response. Various factors impact the immunogenicity of botulinum neurotoxins, including product-related factors such as the manufacturing process, the antigenic protein load, and the presence of accessory proteins, as well as treatment-related factors such as the overall toxin dose, booster injections, and prior vaccination or exposure. Detection of antibodies by laboratory tests does not necessarily predict the clinical success or failure of treatment. Overall, botulinum neurotoxin type A products exhibit low clinically detectable levels of antibodies when compared with other approved biologic products. This review provides an overview of all current botulinum neurotoxin products available commercially, with respect to the development of neutralizing antibodies and clinical response.
PMCID: PMC3555308  PMID: 23008029
Botulinum neurotoxins; Neutralizing antibodies; Cervical dystonia; Torticollis; Blepharospasm; Hyperhidrosis
24.  Bivalent Recombinant Vaccine for Botulinum Neurotoxin Types A and B Based on a Polypeptide Comprising Their Effector and Translocation Domains That Is Protective against the Predominant A and B Subtypes ▿  
Infection and Immunity  2009;77(7):2795-2801.
The botulinum neurotoxins (BoNTs) are a large family of extremely potent, neuroparalytic, dichain proteins which act at the peripheral nervous system. The wide genetic diversity observed with this neurotoxin family poses a significant challenge for the development of an effective botulinum vaccine. The present study describes a vaccine development platform based on protein fragments representing the N-terminal two-thirds of each toxin molecule. These fragments, designated LHN, comprise the light chain and translocation domains of each neurotoxin and are devoid of any neuron-binding activity. Using codon-optimized genes, LHN fragments derived from BoNT serotypes A and B were expressed in Escherichia coli in high yield with >1 g of purified, soluble fragment recoverable from 4.5 liter-scale fermentations. The protective efficacy of LHN/A was significantly enhanced by treatment with formaldehyde, which induced intramolecular cross-linking but virtually no aggregation of the fragment. A single immunization of the modified fragment protected mice from challenge with a 103 50% lethal dose (LD50) of BoNT/A1 with an 50% effective dose (ED50) of 50 ng of the vaccine. In similar experiments, the LHN/A vaccine was shown to protect mice against challenge with BoNT/A subtypes A1, A2, and A3, which is the first demonstration of single-dose protection by a vaccine against the principal toxin subtypes of BoNT/A. The LHN/B vaccine was also highly efficacious, giving an ED50 of ∼140 ng to a challenge of 103 LD50 of BoNT/B1. In addition, LHN/B provided single-dose protection in mice against BoNT/B4 (nonproteolytic toxin subtype).
PMCID: PMC2708551  PMID: 19398544
25.  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

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