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1.  The GraS Sensor in Staphylococcus aureus Mediates Resistance to Host Defense Peptides Differing in Mechanisms of Action 
Infection and Immunity  2016;84(2):459-466.
Staphylococcus aureus uses the two-component regulatory system GraRS to sense and respond to host defense peptides (HDPs). However, the mechanistic impact of GraS or its extracellular sensing loop (EL) on HDP resistance is essentially unexplored. Strains with null mutations in the GraS holoprotein (ΔgraS) or its EL (ΔEL) were compared for mechanisms of resistance to HDPs of relevant immune sources: neutrophil α-defensin (human neutrophil peptide 1 [hNP-1]), cutaneous β-defensin (human β-defensin 2 [hBD-2]), or the platelet kinocidin congener RP-1. Actions studied by flow cytometry included energetics (ENR); membrane permeabilization (PRM); annexin V binding (ANX), and cell death protease activation (CDP). Assay conditions simulated bloodstream (pH 7.5) or phagolysosomal (pH 5.5) pH contexts. S. aureus strains were more susceptible to HDPs at pH 7.5 than at pH 5.5, and each HDP exerted a distinct effect signature. The impacts of ΔgraS and ΔΕL on HDP resistance were peptide and pH dependent. Both mutants exhibited defects in ANX response to hNP-1 or hBD-2 at pH 7.5, but only hNP-1 did so at pH 5.5. Both mutants exhibited hyper-PRM, -ANX, and -CDP responses to RP-1 at both pHs and hypo-ENR at pH 5.5. The actions correlated with ΔgraS or ΔΕL hypersusceptibility to hNP-1 or RP-1 (but not hBD-2) at pH 7.5 and to all study HDPs at pH 5.5. An exogenous EL mimic protected mutant strains from hNP-1 and hBD-2 but not RP-1, indicating that GraS and its EL play nonredundant roles in S. aureus survival responses to specific HDPs. These findings suggest that GraS mediates specific resistance countermeasures to HDPs in immune contexts that are highly relevant to S. aureus pathogenesis in humans.
PMCID: PMC4730570  PMID: 26597988
2.  Restoring immune tolerance in neuromyelitis optica 
Neuromyelitis optica (NMO) and spectrum disorder (NMO/SD) represent a vexing process and its clinical variants appear to have at their pathogenic core the loss of immune tolerance to the aquaporin-4 water channel protein. This process results in a characteristic pattern of astrocyte dysfunction, loss, and demyelination that predominantly affects the spinal cord and optic nerves. Although several empirical therapies are currently used in the treatment of NMO/SD, none has been proven effective in prospective, adequately powered, randomized trials. Furthermore, most of the current therapies subject patients to long-term immunologic suppression that can cause serious infections and development of cancers. The following is the first of a 2-part description of several key immune mechanisms in NMO/SD that might be amenable to therapeutic restoration of immune tolerance. It is intended to provide a roadmap for how potential immune tolerance restorative techniques might be applied to patients with NMO/SD. This initial installment provides a background rationale underlying attempts at immune tolerization. It provides specific examples of innovative approaches that have emerged recently as a consequence of technical advances. In several autoimmune diseases, these strategies have been reduced to practice. Therefore, in theory, the identification of aquaporin-4 as the dominant autoantigen makes NMO/SD an ideal candidate for the development of tolerizing therapies or cures for this increasingly recognized disease.
PMCID: PMC5015539  PMID: 27648463
3.  Restoring immune tolerance in neuromyelitis optica 
Neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMO/SD) and its clinical variants have at their core the loss of immune tolerance to aquaporin-4 and perhaps other autoantigens. The characteristic phenotype is disruption of astrocyte function and demyelination of spinal cord, optic nerves, and particular brain regions. In this second of a 2-part article, we present further perspectives regarding the pathogenesis of NMO/SD and how this disease might be amenable to emerging technologies aimed at restoring immune tolerance to disease-implicated self-antigens. NMO/SD appears to be particularly well-suited for these strategies since aquaporin-4 has already been identified as the dominant autoantigen. The recent technical advances in reintroducing immune tolerance in experimental models of disease as well as in humans should encourage quantum leaps in this area that may prove productive for novel therapy. In this part of the article series, the potential for regulatory T and B cells is brought into focus, as are new approaches to oral tolerization. Finally, a roadmap is provided to help identify potential issues in clinical development and guide applications in tolerization therapy to solving NMO/SD through the use of emerging technologies. Each of these perspectives is intended to shine new light on potential cures for NMO/SD and other autoimmune diseases, while sparing normal host defense mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC5015540  PMID: 27648464
4.  Nonredundant Roles of Interleukin-17A (IL-17A) and IL-22 in Murine Host Defense against Cutaneous and Hematogenous Infection Due to Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus 
Infection and Immunity  2015;83(11):4427-4437.
Staphylococcus aureus is the leading cause of skin and skin structure infections (SSSI) in humans. Moreover, the high frequency of recurring SSSI due to S. aureus, particularly methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) strains, suggests that infection induces suboptimal anamnestic defenses. The present study addresses the hypothesis that interleukin-17A (IL-17A) and IL-22 play distinct roles in immunity to cutaneous and invasive MRSA infection in a mouse model of SSSI. Mice were treated with specific neutralizing antibodies against IL-17A and/or IL-22 and infected with MRSA, after which the severity of infection and host immune response were determined. Neutralization of either IL-17A or IL-22 reduced T cell and neutrophil infiltration and host defense peptide elaboration in lesions. These events corresponded with increased abscess severity, MRSA viability, and CFU density in skin. Interestingly, combined inhibition of IL-17A and IL-22 did not worsen abscesses but did increase gamma interferon (IFN-γ) expression at these sites. The inhibition of IL-22 led to a reduction in IL-17A expression, but not vice versa. These results suggest that the expression of IL-17A is at least partially dependent on IL-22 in this model. Inhibition of IL-17A but not IL-22 led to hematogenous dissemination to kidneys, which correlated with decreased T cell infiltration in renal tissue. Collectively, these findings indicate that IL-17A and IL-22 have complementary but nonredundant roles in host defense against cutaneous versus hematogenous infection. These insights may support targeted immune enhancement or other novel approaches to address the challenge of MRSA infection.
PMCID: PMC4598415  PMID: 26351278
5.  Early agr activation correlates with vancomycin treatment failure in multi-clonotype MRSA endovascular infections 
Persistent MRSA infections are especially relevant to endovascular infections and correlate with suboptimal outcomes. However, the virulence signatures of Staphylococcus aureus that drive such persistence outcomes are not well defined. In the current study, we investigated correlations between accessory gene regulator (agr) activation and the outcome of vancomycin treatment in an experimental model of infective endocarditis (IE) due to MRSA strains with different agr and clonal complex (CC) types.
Twelve isolates with the four most common MRSA CC and agr types (CC5-agr II, CC8-agr I, CC30-agr III and CC45-agr I) were evaluated for heterogeneous vancomycin-intermediate S. aureus (hVISA), agr function, agrA and RNAIII transcription, agr locus sequences, virulence and response to vancomycin in the IE model.
Early agr RNAIII activation (beginning at 2 h of growth) in parallel with strong δ-haemolysin production correlated with persistent outcomes in the IE model following vancomycin therapy. Importantly, such treatment failures occurred across the range of CC/agr types studied. In addition, these MRSA strains: (i) were vancomycin susceptible in vitro; (ii) were not hVISA or vancomycin tolerant; and (iii) did not evolve hVISA phenotypes or perturbed δ-haemolysin activity in vivo following vancomycin therapy. Moreover, agr locus sequence analyses revealed no common point mutations that correlated with either temporal RNAIII transcription or vancomycin treatment outcomes, encompassing different CC and agr types.
These data suggest that temporal agr RNAIII activation and agr functional profiles may be useful biomarkers to predict the in vivo persistence of endovascular MRSA infections despite vancomycin therapy.
PMCID: PMC4398469  PMID: 25564565
bacteria; antibiotics; resistance
6.  A liaR Deletion Restores Susceptibility to Daptomycin and Antimicrobial Peptides in Multidrug-Resistant Enterococcus faecalis 
The Journal of Infectious Diseases  2014;211(8):1317-1325.
Daptomycin is a lipopeptide antibiotic that is used clinically against many gram-positive bacterial pathogens and is considered a key frontline bactericidal antibiotic to treat multidrug-resistant enterococci. Emergence of daptomycin resistance during therapy of serious enterococcal infections is a major clinical issue. In this work, we show that deletion of the gene encoding the response regulator, LiaR (a member of the LiaFSR system that controls cell envelope homeostasis), from daptomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecalis not only reversed resistance to 2 clinically available cell membrane–targeting antimicrobials (daptomycin and telavancin), but also resulted in hypersusceptibility to these antibiotics and to a variety of antimicrobial peptides of diverse origin and with different mechanisms of action. The changes in susceptibility to these antibiotics and antimicrobial peptides correlated with in vivo attenuation in a Caenorhabditis elegans model. Mechanistically, deletion of liaR altered the localization of cardiolipin microdomains in the cell membrane. Our findings suggest that LiaR is a master regulator of the enterococcal cell membrane response to diverse antimicrobial agents and peptides; as such, LiaR represents a novel target to restore the activity of clinically useful antimicrobials against these organisms and, potentially, increase susceptibility to endogenous antimicrobial peptides.
PMCID: PMC4402337  PMID: 25362197
LiaFSR; daptomycin; E. faecalis; antimicrobial peptides
7.  Update on biomarkers in neuromyelitis optica 
Neuromyelitis optica (NMO) (and NMO spectrum disorder) is an autoimmune inflammatory disease of the CNS primarily affecting spinal cord and optic nerves. Reliable and sensitive biomarkers for onset, relapse, and progression in NMO are urgently needed because of the heterogeneous clinical presentation, severity of neurologic disability following relapses, and variability of therapeutic response. Detecting aquaporin-4 (AQP4) antibodies (AQP4-IgG or NMO-IgG) in serum supports the diagnosis of seropositive NMO. However, whether AQP4-IgG levels correlate with disease activity, severity, response to therapy, or long-term outcomes is unclear. Moreover, biomarkers for patients with seronegative NMO have yet to be defined and validated. Collaborative international studies hold great promise for establishing and validating biomarkers that are useful in therapeutic trials and clinical management. In this review, we discuss known and potential biomarkers for NMO.
PMCID: PMC4516398  PMID: 26236760
8.  Site-Specific Mutation of the Sensor Kinase GraS in Staphylococcus aureus Alters the Adaptive Response to Distinct Cationic Antimicrobial Peptides 
Infection and Immunity  2014;82(12):5336-5345.
The Staphylococcus aureus two-component regulatory system, GraRS, is involved in resistance to killing by distinct host defense cationic antimicrobial peptides (HD-CAPs). It is believed to regulate downstream target genes such as mprF and dltABCD to modify the S. aureus surface charge. However, the detailed mechanism(s) by which the histidine kinase, GraS, senses specific HD-CAPs is not well defined. Here, we studied a well-characterized clinical methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) strain (MW2), its isogenic graS deletion mutant (ΔgraS strain), a nonameric extracellular loop mutant (ΔEL strain), and four residue-specific ΔEL mutants (D37A, P39A, P39S, and D35G D37G D41G strains). The ΔgraS and ΔEL strains were unable to induce mprF and dltA expression and, in turn, demonstrated significantly increased susceptibilities to daptomycin, polymyxin B, and two prototypical HD-CAPs (hNP-1 and RP-1). Further, P39A, P39S, and D35G-D37G-D41G ΔEL mutations correlated with moderate increases in HD-CAP susceptibility. Reductions of mprF and dltA induction by PMB were also found in the ΔEL mutants, suggesting these residues are pivotal to appropriate activation of the GraS sensor kinase. Importantly, a synthetic exogenous soluble EL mimic of GraS protected the parental MW2 strain against hNP-1- and RP-1-mediated killing, suggesting a direct interaction of the EL with HD-CAPs in GraS activation. In vivo, the ΔgraS and ΔEL strains displayed dramatic reductions in achieved target tissue MRSA counts in an endocarditis model. Taken together, our results provide new insights into potential roles of GraS in S. aureus sensing of HD-CAPs to induce adaptive survival responses to these molecules.
PMCID: PMC4249274  PMID: 25287929
9.  Heterogeneity of mprF Sequences in Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Clinical Isolates: Role in Cross-Resistance between Daptomycin and Host Defense Antimicrobial Peptides 
Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy  2014;58(12):7462-7467.
Over the past several years, single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) within the mprF open reading frame (ORF) have been proposed to be associated with a gain-of-function phenotype in terms of daptomycin (DAP) nonsusceptibility (referred to as daptomycin resistance [DAP-R] herein for ease of presentation) in Staphylococcus aureus. We investigated the frequencies of SNPs within the mprF ORF and the relationships of such SNPs to cross-resistance between DAP and cationic host defense peptides (HDPs). Thirty-five well-characterized, unique DAP-susceptible (DAP-S) and DAP-R methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) isolates of the clonal complex 5 genotype were used. In addition to mprF SNPs and DAP-HDP cross-resistance, several other key genotypic and phenotypic metrics often associated with DAP-R were delineated, as follows: (i) mprF expression, (ii) membrane phospholipid content, (iii) positive surface charge, (iv) DAP binding, and (v) cell wall thickness profiles. A number of DAP-S strains (MICs of ≤1 μg/ml) exhibited mprF SNPs, occasionally with high-level mprF sequence variation from the genotype reference strain. However, none of these SNPs were localized to well-chronicled mprF hot spot locations associated with DAP-R in S. aureus. In contrast, all 8 DAP-R isolates demonstrated SNPs within such known mprF hot spots. Moreover, only the DAP-R strains showed MprF gain-of-function phenotypes, enhanced mprF expression, higher survival against two prototypical HDPs, and reduced DAP binding. Although a heterogenous array of mprF SNPs were often found in DAP-S strains, only selected hot spot SNPs, combined with concurrent mprF dysregulation, were associated with the DAP-R phenotype.
PMCID: PMC4249560  PMID: 25288091
10.  B lymphocytes in neuromyelitis optica 
Neuromyelitis optica (NMO) is an inflammatory autoimmune disorder of the CNS that predominantly affects the spinal cord and optic nerves. A majority (approximately 75%) of patients with NMO are seropositive for autoantibodies against the astrocyte water channel aquaporin-4 (AQP4). These autoantibodies are predominantly IgG1, and considerable evidence supports their pathogenicity, presumably by binding to AQP4 on CNS astrocytes, resulting in astrocyte injury and inflammation. Convergent clinical and laboratory-based investigations have indicated that B cells play a fundamental role in NMO immunopathology. Multiple mechanisms have been hypothesized: AQP4 autoantibody production, enhanced proinflammatory B cell and plasmablast activity, aberrant B cell tolerance checkpoints, diminished B cell regulatory function, and loss of B cell anergy. Accordingly, many current off-label therapies for NMO deplete B cells or modulate their activity. Understanding the role and mechanisms whereby B cells contribute to initiation, maintenance, and propagation of disease activity is important to advancing our understanding of NMO pathogenesis and developing effective disease-specific therapies.
PMCID: PMC4426682  PMID: 25977932
11.  Challenges and opportunities in designing clinical trials for neuromyelitis optica 
Neurology  2015;84(17):1805-1815.
Current management of neuromyelitis optica (NMO) is noncurative and only partially effective. Immunosuppressive or immunomodulatory agents are the mainstays of maintenance treatment. Safer, better-tolerated, and proven effective treatments are needed. The perceived rarity of NMO has impeded clinical trials for this disease. However, a diagnostic biomarker and recognition of a wider spectrum of NMO presentations has expanded the patient population from which study candidates might be recruited. Emerging insights into the pathogenesis of NMO have provided rationale for exploring new therapeutic targets. Academic, pharmaceutical, and regulatory communities are increasingly interested in meeting the unmet needs of patients with NMO. Clinical trials powered to yield unambiguous outcomes and designed to facilitate rapid evaluation of an expanding pipeline of experimental agents are needed. NMO-related disability occurs incrementally as a result of attacks; thus, limiting attack frequency and severity are critical treatment goals. Yet, the severity of NMO and perception that currently available agents are effective pose challenges to study design. We propose strategies for NMO clinical trials to evaluate agents targeting recovery from acute attacks and prevention of relapses, the 2 primary goals of NMO treatment. Aligning the interests of all stakeholders is an essential step to this end.
PMCID: PMC4424131  PMID: 25841026
12.  Impact of Vancomycin on sarA-Mediated Biofilm Formation: Role in Persistent Endovascular Infections Due to Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus 
The Journal of Infectious Diseases  2014;209(8):1231-1240.
Background. Staphylococcus aureus is the most common cause of endovascular infections. The staphylococcal accessory regulator A locus (sarA) is a major virulence determinant that may potentially impact methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) persistence in such infections via its influence on biofilm formation.
Methods. Two healthcare-associated MRSA isolates from patients with persistent bacteremia and 2 prototypical community-acquired MRSA strains, as well as their respective isogenic sarA mutants, were studied for in vitro biofilm formation, fibronectin-binding capacity, autolysis, and protease and nuclease activities. These assays were done in the presence or absence of sub–minimum inhibitory concentrations (MICs) of vancomycin. In addition, these strain pairs were compared for intrinsic virulence and responses to vancomycin therapy in experimental infective endocarditis, a prototypical biofilm model.
Results. All sarA mutants displayed significantly reduced biofilm formation and binding to fibronectin but increased protease production in vitro, compared with their respective parental strains. Interestingly, exposure to sub-MICs of vancomycin significantly promoted biofilm formation and fibronectin-binding in parental strains but not in sarA mutants. In addition, all sarA mutants became exquisitely susceptible to vancomycin therapy, compared with their respective parental strains, in the infective endocarditis model.
Conclusions. These observations suggest that sarA activation is important in persistent MRSA endovascular infection, potentially in the setting of biofilm formation.
PMCID: PMC3969550  PMID: 24403556
sarA; biofilm formation; MRSA endocarditis
14.  Phenotypic and Genotypic Characterization of Daptomycin-Resistant Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Strains: Relative Roles of mprF and dlt Operons 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e107426.
Development of in vivo daptomycin resistance (DAP-R) among Staphylococcus aureus clinical isolates, in association with clinical treatment failures, has become a major therapeutic problem. This issue is especially relevant to methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) strains in the context of invasive endovascular infections. In the current study, we used three well-characterized and clinically-derived DAP-susceptible (DAP-S) vs. resistant (DAP-R) MRSA strain-pairs to elucidate potential genotypic mechanisms of the DAP-R phenotype. In comparison to the DAP-S parental strains, DAP-R isolates demonstrated (i) altered expression of two key determinants of net positive surface charge, either during exponential or stationary growth phases (i.e., dysregulation of dltA and mprF), (ii) a significant increase in the D-alanylated wall teichoic acid (WTA) content in DAP-R strains, reflecting DltA gain-in-function; (iii) heightened elaboration of lysinylated-phosphatidylglyderol (L-PG) in DAP-R strains, reflecting MprF gain-in-function; (iv) increased cell membrane (CM) fluidity, and (v) significantly reduced susceptibility to prototypic cationic host defense peptides of platelet and leukocyte origins. In the tested DAP-R strains, genes conferring positive surface charge were dysregulated, and their functionality altered. However, there were no correlations between relative surface positive charge or cell wall thickness and the observed DAP-R phenotype. Thus, charge repulsion mechanisms via altered surface charge may not be sufficient to explain the DAP-R outcome. Instead, changes in the compositional or biophysical order of the DAP CM target of such DAP-R strains (i.e., increased fluidity) may be essential to this phenotype. Taken together, DAP-R in S. aureus appears to involve multi-factorial and strain-specific adaptive mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC4166420  PMID: 25226591
15.  The RpoB H481Y Rifampicin Resistance Mutation and an Active Stringent Response Reduce Virulence and Increase Resistance to Innate Immune Responses in Staphylococcus aureus 
The Journal of Infectious Diseases  2012;207(6):929-939.
The occurrence of mutations in methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) during persistent infection leads to antimicrobial resistance but may also impact host-pathogen interactions. Here, we investigate the host-pathogen consequences of 2 mutations arising in clinical MRSA during persistent infection: RpoB H481Y, which is linked to rifampicin resistance, and RelA F128Y, which is associated with an active stringent response. Allelic exchange experiments showed that both mutations cause global transcriptional changes, leading to upregulation of capsule production, with attenuated virulence in a murine bacteremia model and reduced susceptibility to both antimicrobial peptides and whole-blood killing. Disruption of capsule biosynthesis reversed these impacts on innate immune function. These data clearly link MRSA persistence and reduced virulence to the same mechanisms that alter antimicrobial susceptibility. Our study highlights the wider consequences of suboptimal antimicrobial use, where drug resistance and immune escape mechanisms coevolve, thus increasing the likelihood of treatment failure.
PMCID: PMC3633451  PMID: 23255563
Staphylococcus aureus; antibiotic resistance; virulence; persistence
16.  Role of the LytSR Two-Component Regulatory System in Adaptation to Cationic Antimicrobial Peptides in Staphylococcus aureus 
Many host defense cationic antimicrobial peptides (HDPs) perturb the staphylococcal cell membrane (CM) and alter transmembrane potential (ΔΨ) as key parts of their lethal mechanism. Thus, a sense-response system for detecting and mediating adaptive responses to such stresses could impact organism survival; the Staphylococcus aureus LytSR two-component regulatory system (TCRS) may serve as such a ΔΨ sensor. One well-known target of this system is the lrgAB operon, which, along with the related cidABC operon, has been shown to be a regulator in the control of programmed cell death and lysis. We used an isogenic set of S. aureus strains: (i) UAMS-1, (ii) its isogenic ΔlytS and ΔlrgAB mutants, and (iii) plasmid-complemented ΔlytSR and ΔlrgAB mutants. The ΔlytS strain displayed significantly increased in vitro susceptibilities to all HDPs tested (neutrophil-derived human neutrophil peptide 1 [hNP-1], platelet-derived thrombin-induced platelet microbicidal proteins [tPMPs], and the tPMP-mimetic peptide RP-1), as well as to calcium-daptomycin (DAP), a cationic antimicrobial peptide (CAP). In contrast, the ΔlrgAB strain exhibited no significant changes in susceptibilities to these cationic peptides, indicating that although lytSR positively regulates transcription of lrgAB, increased HDP/CAP susceptibilities in the ΔlytS mutant were lrgAB independent. Further, parental UAMS-1 (but not the ΔlytS mutant) became more resistant to hNP-1 and DAP following pretreatment with carbonyl cyanide m-chlorophenylhydrazone (CCCP) (a CM-depolarizing agent). Of note, lytSR-dependent survival against CAP/HDP killing was not associated with changes in either surface positive charge, expression of mprF and dlt, or CM fluidity. The ΔlytS strain (but not the ΔlrgAB mutant) displayed a significant reduction in target tissue survival in an endocarditis model during DAP treatment. Collectively, these results suggest that the lytSR TCRS plays an important role in adaptive responses of S. aureus to CM-perturbing HDPs/CAPs, likely by functioning as a sense-response system for detecting subtle changes in ΔΨ.
PMCID: PMC3719743  PMID: 23733465
17.  Applying Convergent Immunity to Innovative Vaccines Targeting Staphylococcus aureus 
Recent perspectives forecast a new paradigm for future “third generation” vaccines based on commonalities found in diverse pathogens or convergent immune defenses to such pathogens. For Staphylococcus aureus, recurring infections and a limited success of vaccines containing S. aureus antigens imply that native antigens induce immune responses insufficient for optimal efficacy. These perspectives exemplify the need to apply novel vaccine strategies to high-priority pathogens. One such approach can be termed convergent immunity, where antigens from non-target organisms that contain epitope homologs found in the target organism are applied in vaccines. This approach aims to evoke atypical immune defenses via synergistic processes that (1) afford protective efficacy; (2) target an epitope from one organism that contributes to protective immunity against another; (3) cross-protect against multiple pathogens occupying a common anatomic or immunological niche; and/or (4) overcome immune subversion or avoidance strategies of target pathogens. Thus, convergent immunity has a potential to promote protective efficacy not usually elicited by native antigens from a target pathogen. Variations of this concept have been mainstays in the history of viral and bacterial vaccine development. A more far-reaching example is the pre-clinical evidence that specific fungal antigens can induce cross-kingdom protection against bacterial pathogens. This trans-kingdom protection has been demonstrated in pre-clinical studies of the recombinant Candida albicans agglutinin-like sequence 3 protein (rAls3) where it was shown that a vaccine containing rAls3 provides homologous protection against C. albicans, heterologous protection against several other Candida species, and convergent protection against several strains of S. aureus. Convergent immunity reflects an intriguing new approach to designing and developing vaccine antigens and is considered here in the context of vaccines to target S. aureus.
PMCID: PMC4176462  PMID: 25309545
Staphylococcus aureus; vaccines; NDV-3; Als3; convergent immunity; convergent antigen
18.  CotH3 mediates fungal invasion of host cells during mucormycosis 
Angioinvasion is a hallmark of mucormycosis. Previously, we identified endothelial cell glucose-regulated protein 78 (GRP78) as a receptor for Mucorales that mediates host cell invasion. Here we determined that spore coat protein homologs (CotH) of Mucorales act as fungal ligands for GRP78. CotH proteins were widely present in Mucorales and absent from noninvasive pathogens. Heterologous expression of CotH3 and CotH2 in Saccharomyces cerevisiae conferred the ability to invade host cells via binding to GRP78. Homology modeling and computational docking studies indicated structurally compatible interactions between GRP78 and both CotH3 and CotH2. A mutant of Rhizopus oryzae, the most common cause of mucormycosis, with reduced CotH expression was impaired for invading and damaging endothelial cells and CHO cells overexpressing GRP78. This strain also exhibited reduced virulence in a diabetic ketoacidotic (DKA) mouse model of mucormycosis. Treatment with anti-CotH Abs abolished the ability of R. oryzae to invade host cells and protected DKA mice from mucormycosis. The presence of CotH in Mucorales explained the specific susceptibility of DKA patients, who have increased GRP78 levels, to mucormycosis. Together, these data indicate that CotH3 and CotH2 function as invasins that interact with host cell GRP78 to mediate pathogenic host-cell interactions and identify CotH as a promising therapeutic target for mucormycosis.
PMCID: PMC3871245  PMID: 24355926
19.  NDV-3, a Recombinant Alum-Adjuvanted Vaccine for Candida and Staphylococcus aureus is Safe and Immunogenic in Healthy Adults 
Vaccine  2012;30(52):7594-7600.
The investigational vaccine, NDV-3, contains the N-terminal portion of the Candida albicans agglutinin-like sequence 3 protein (Als3p) formulated with an aluminum hydroxide adjuvant in phosphate-buffered saline. Preclinical studies demonstrated that the Als3p vaccine antigen protects mice from oropharyngeal, vaginal and intravenous challenge with C. albicans and other selected species of Candida as well as both intravenous challenge and skin and soft tissue infection with Staphylococcus aureus. The objectives of this first-in-human Phase I clinical trial were to evaluate the safety, tolerability and immunogenicity of NDV-3 at two different antigen levels compared to a saline placebo. Forty healthy, adult subjects were randomized to receive one dose of NDV-3 containing either 30 or 300 μg of Als3p, or placebo. NDV-3 at both dose levels was safe and generally well-tolerated. Anti-Als3p total IgG and IgA1 levels for both doses reached peak levels by day 14 post vaccination, with 100% seroconversion of all vaccinated subjects. On average, NDV-3 stimulated peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) production of both IFN-γ and IL-17A, which peaked at day 7 for subjects receiving the 300 μg dose and at day 28 for those receiving the 30 μg dose. Six months after receiving the first dose of NDV-3, nineteen subjects received a second dose of NDV-3 identical to their first dose to evaluate memory B- and T-cell immune responses. The second dose resulted in a significant boost of IgG and IgA1 titers in >70% of subjects, with the biggest impact in those receiving the 30 μg dose. A memory T-cell response was also noted for IFN-γ in almost all subjects and for IL-17A in the majority of subjects. These data support the continued investigation of NDV-3 as a vaccine candidate against Candida and S. aureus infections.
PMCID: PMC3513491  PMID: 23099329
vaccine; phase 1; first-in-human; Als3p; Candida; Staphylococcus aureus
20.  Reduced Susceptibility to Host-Defense Cationic Peptides and Daptomycin Coemerge in Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus From Daptomycin-Naive Bacteremic Patients 
The Journal of Infectious Diseases  2012;206(8):1160-1167.
Background. We hypothesized that, for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), in vitro daptomycin susceptibility could be influenced by exposures to endogenous host defense peptides (HDPs) prior to clinical exposure to daptomycin.
Methods. Two endovascular HDPs were used: thrombin-induced platelet microbicidal protein (tPMP) and human neutrophil defensin-1 (hNP-1) from neutrophils. Forty-seven unique MRSA isolates obtained from bacteremic patients in multicenter prospective clinical trials were studied. Clinical characteristics, microbiologic parameters, prior vancomycin therapy, and susceptibilities to tPMP, hNP-1, and daptomycin were compared using univariate and multivariate analyses.
Results. All strains were daptomycin susceptible. Daptomycin minimum inhibitory concentrations (MICs) were inversely related to in vitro tPMP (but not hNP-1) killing. Strains with a daptomycin MIC of 1 mg/L exhibited significantly less killing by tPMP, compared with strains with an MIC of ≤ 0.5 mg/L. Prior vancomycin therapy did not influence this relationship. Regression tree modeling confirmed that reduced tPMP-induced killing in vitro was the strongest predictor of higher daptomycin MICs within the daptomycin-susceptible range.
Conclusions. Among daptomycin-susceptible MRSA isolates from patients who had never received daptomycin, higher daptomycin MICs tracked with increased resistance to killing by platelet-derived but not neutrophil-derived HDPs. These findings support the notion that endogenous exposure of MRSA to specific HDPs may play a role in selecting strains with an intrinsically higher daptomycin MIC phenotype.
PMCID: PMC3448966  PMID: 22904338
Biochimica et biophysica acta  2006;1768(3):609-619.
Mammalian platelets contain an array of antimicrobial peptides, termed platelet microbicidal proteins (PMPs). Human and rabbit PMPs include known chemokines, such as platelet factor-4 (hPF-4); PMP-1 is the rabbit orthologue of hPF-4. Chemokines that also exert direct antimicrobial activity have been termed kinocidins. A consensus peptide domain library representing mammalian PF-4 family members was analyzed to define structural domains contributing to antimicrobial activity against a panel of human pathogens. Secondary conformations were assessed by circular dichroism spectrometry, and molecular modeling was employed to investigate structural correlates of antimicrobial efficacy. Antimicrobial activity against isogenic peptide–susceptible or –resistant S. aureus, S. typhimurium, and C. albicans strain pairs mapped to the C-terminal hemimer (38-74) and modular domains thereof (49-63 and 60-74). Increasing electrostatic charge and steric bulk were general correlates of efficacy. Structural data corroborated spatial distribution of charge, steric bulk and putative secondary structure with organism-specific efficacy. Microbicidal efficacies of the cPMP antimicrobial hemimer and C-terminal peptide (60-74) were retained in a complex human-blood biomatrix assay. Collectively, these results suggest that modular determinants arising from structural components acting independently and cooperatively govern the antimicrobial functions of PF-4 family kinocidins against specific target pathogens.
PMCID: PMC2827485  PMID: 17217910
antimicrobial; peptide; structure; platelet; kinocidin
22.  Reduced Vancomycin Susceptibility in an In Vitro Catheter-Related Biofilm Model Correlates with Poor Therapeutic Outcomes in Experimental Endocarditis Due to Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus 
Staphylococcus aureus is the most common cause of endovascular infections, including catheter sepsis and infective endocarditis (IE). Vancomycin (VAN) is the primary choice for treatment of methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) infections. However, high rates of VAN treatment failure in MRSA infections caused by VAN-susceptible strains have been increasingly reported. Biofilm-associated MRSA infections are especially prone to clinical antibiotic failure. The present studies examined potential relationships between MRSA susceptibility to VAN in biofilms in vitro and nonsusceptibility to VAN in endovascular infection in vivo. Using 10 “VAN-susceptible” MRSA bloodstream isolates previously investigated for VAN responsiveness in experimental IE, we studied the mechanism(s) of such in vivo VAN resistance, including: (i) VAN binding to MRSA organisms; (ii) the impact of VAN on biofilm formation and biofilm composition; (iii) VAN efficacy in an in vitro catheter-related biofilm model; (iv) effects on cell wall thickness. As a group, the five strains previously categorized as VAN nonresponders (non-Rsp) in the experimental IE model differed from the five responders (Rsp) in terms of lower VAN binding, increased biofilm formation, higher survival in the presence of VAN within biofilms in the presence or absence of catheters, and greater biofilm reduction upon proteinase K treatment. Interestingly, sub-MICs of VAN significantly promoted biofilm formation only in the non-Rsp isolates. Cell wall thickness was similar among all MRSA strains. These results suggest that sublethal VAN levels that induce biofilm formation and reduce efficacy of VAN in the in vitro catheter-associated biofilms may contribute to suboptimal treatment outcomes for endovascular infections caused by “VAN-susceptible” MRSA strains.
PMCID: PMC3591927  PMID: 23295925
23.  Bcr1 Functions Downstream of Ssd1 To Mediate Antimicrobial Peptide Resistance in Candida albicans 
Eukaryotic Cell  2013;12(3):411-419.
In order to colonize the host and cause disease, Candida albicans must avoid being killed by host defense peptides. Previously, we determined that the regulatory protein Ssd1 governs antimicrobial peptide resistance in C. albicans. Here, we sought to identify additional genes whose products govern susceptibility to antimicrobial peptides. We discovered that a bcr1Δ/Δ mutant, like the ssd1Δ/Δ mutant, had increased susceptibility to the antimicrobial peptides, protamine, RP-1, and human β defensin-2. Homozygous deletion of BCR1 in the ssd1Δ/Δ mutant did not result in a further increase in antimicrobial peptide susceptibility. Exposure of the bcr1Δ/Δ and ssd1Δ/Δ mutants to RP-1 induced greater loss of mitochondrial membrane potential and increased plasma membrane permeability than with the control strains. Therefore, Bcr1 and Ssd1 govern antimicrobial peptide susceptibility and likely function in the same pathway. Furthermore, BCR1 mRNA expression was downregulated in the ssd1Δ/Δ mutant, and the forced expression of BCR1 in the ssd1Δ/Δ mutant partially restored antimicrobial peptide resistance. These results suggest that Bcr1 functions downstream of Ssd1. Interestingly, overexpression of 11 known Bcr1 target genes in the bcr1Δ/Δ mutant failed to restore antimicrobial peptide resistance, suggesting that other Bcr1 target genes are likely responsible for antimicrobial peptide resistance. Collectively, these results demonstrate that Bcr1 functions downstream of Ssd1 to govern antimicrobial peptide resistance by maintaining mitochondrial energetics and reducing membrane permeabilization.
PMCID: PMC3629773  PMID: 23314964
24.  Emergence of Daptomycin Resistance in Daptomycin-Naïve Rabbits with Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Prosthetic Joint Infection Is Associated with Resistance to Host Defense Cationic Peptides and mprF Polymorphisms 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e71151.
Previous studies of both clinically-derived and in vitro passage-derived daptomycin–resistant (DAP-R) Staphylococcus aureus strains demonstrated the coincident emergence of increased DAP MICs and resistance to host defense cationic peptides (HDP-R).
In the present investigation, we studied a parental DAP-susceptible (DAP-S) methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) strain and three isogenic variants with increased DAP MICs which were isolated from both DAP-treated and DAP-untreated rabbits with prosthetic joint infections. These strains were compared for: in vitro susceptibility to distinct HDPs differing in size, structure, and origin; i.e.; thrombin-induced platelet microbicidal proteins [tPMPs] and human neutrophil peptide-1 [hNP-1]; cell membrane (CM) phospholipid and fatty acid content; CM order; envelope surface charge; cell wall thickness; and mprF single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and expression profiles.
In comparison with the parental strain, both DAP-exposed and DAP-naive strains exhibited: (i) significantly reduced susceptibility to each HDP (P<0.05); (ii) thicker cell walls (P<0.05); (iii) increased synthesis of CM lysyl-phosphatidylglycerol (L-PG); (iv) reduced content of CM phosphatidylglycerol (PG); and (v) SNPs within the mprF locus No significant differences were observed between parental or variant strains in outer CM content of L-PG, CM fluidity, CM fatty acid contents, surface charge, mprF expression profiles or MprF protein content. An isolate which underwent identical in vivo passage, but without evolving increased DAP MICs, retained parental phenotypes and genotype.
These results suggest: i) DAP MIC increases may occur in the absence of DAP exposures in vivo and may be triggered by organism exposure to endogenous HDPs: and ii) gain-in-function SNPs in mprF may contribute to such HDP-DAP cross-resistance phenotypes, although the mechanism of this relationship remains to be defined.
PMCID: PMC3747195  PMID: 23990934
25.  Daptomycin resistance mechanisms in clinically derived Staphylococcus aureus strains assessed by a combined transcriptomics and proteomics approach 
The development of daptomycin resistance in Staphylococcus aureus is associated with clinical treatment failures. The mechanism(s) of such resistance have not been clearly defined.
We studied an isogenic daptomycin-susceptible (DAPS) and daptomycin-resistant (DAPR) S. aureus strain pair (616; 701) from a patient with relapsing endocarditis during daptomycin treatment, using comparative transcriptomic and proteomic techniques.
Minor differences in the genome content were found between strains by DNA hybridization. Transcriptomic analyses identified a number of genes differentially expressed in important functional categories: cell division; metabolism of bacterial envelopes; and global regulation. Of note, the DAPR isolate exhibited reduced expression of the major cell wall autolysis gene coincident with the up-regulation of genes involved in cell wall teichoic acid production. Using quantitative (q)RT–PCR on the gene cadre putatively involved in cationic peptide resistance, we formulated a putative regulatory network compatible with microarray data sets, mainly implicating bacterial envelopes. Of interest, qRT–PCR of this same gene cadre from two distinct isogenic DAPS/DAPR clinical strain pairs revealed evidence of other strain–dependent networks operative in the DAPR phenotype. Comparative proteomics of 616 versus 701 revealed a differential abundance of proteins in various functional categories, including cell wall-associated targets and biofilm formation proteins. Phenotypically, strains 616 and 701 showed major differences in their ability to develop bacterial biofilms in the presence of the antibacterial lipid, oleic acid.
Compatible with previous in vitro observations, in vivo-acquired DAPR in S. aureus is a complex, multistep phenomenon involving: (i) strain-dependent phenotypes; (ii) transcriptome adaptation; and (iii) modification of the lipid and protein contents of cellular envelopes.
PMCID: PMC3133485  PMID: 21622973
cell wall metabolism; antibiotic resistance; biofilms; δ-haemolysis; oleic acid; microarrays; virulence; quantitative proteomics

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