Current immunization strategies directed at the polysaccharide capsule offer no protection against pneumococcal keratitis. Active immunization with a protein virulence factor such as pneumolysin may be a more effective approach for significantly reducing the corneal damage associated with pneumococcal keratitis.
The purpose of this study was to determine whether active immunization against pneumolysin (PLY), or polysaccharide capsule, protects against the corneal damage associated with Streptococcus pneumoniae keratitis.
New Zealand White rabbits were actively immunized with Freund's adjuvant mixed with pneumolysin toxoid (ψPLY), Pneumovax 23 (PPSV23; Merck, Whitehouse Station, NJ), or phosphate-buffered saline (PBS), before corneal infection with 105 colony-forming units (CFU) of S. pneumoniae. Serotype-specific rabbit polyclonal antisera or mock antisera were passively administered to rabbits before either intravenous infection with 1011 CFU S. pneumoniae or corneal infection with 105 CFU of S. pneumoniae.
After active immunization, clinical scores of corneas of the rabbits immunized with ψPLY and Freund's adjuvant were significantly lower than scores of the rabbits that were mock immunized with PBS and Freund's adjuvant or with PPSV23 and Freund's adjuvant at 48 hours after infection (P ≤ 0.0010), whereas rabbits immunized with PPSV23 and Freund's adjuvant failed to show differences in clinical scores compared with those in mock-immunized rabbits (P = 1.00) at 24 and 48 hours after infection. Antisera from rabbits actively immunized with PPSV23 and Freund's adjuvant were nonopsonizing. Bacterial loads recovered from infected corneas were higher for the ψPLY- and PPSV23-immunized rabbits after infection with WU2, when compared with the mock-immunized rabbits (P ≤ 0.007). Conversely, after infection with K1443, the ψPLY-immunized rabbits had lower bacterial loads than the control rabbits (P = 0.0008). Quantitation of IgG, IgA, and IgM in the sera of ψPLY-immunized rabbits showed high concentrations of PLY-specific IgG. Furthermore, anti-PLY IgG purified from ψPLY-immunized rabbits neutralized the cytolytic effects of PLY on human corneal epithelial cells. Passive administration of serotype-specific antisera capable of opsonizing and killing S. pneumoniae protected against pneumococcal bacteremia (P ≤ 0.05), but not against keratitis (P ≥ 0.476).
Active immunization with pneumococcal capsular polysaccharide and Freund's adjuvant fails to produce opsonizing antibodies, and passive administration of serotype specific opsonizing antibodies offers no protection against pneumococcal keratitis in the rabbit, whereas active immunization with the conserved protein virulence factor PLY and Freund's adjuvant is able to reduce corneal inflammation associated with pneumococcal keratitis, but has variable effects on bacterial loads in the cornea.