There are no effective vaccines for visceral leishmaniasis (VL), a neglected parasitic disease second only to malaria in global mortality. We previously identified 14 protective candidates in a screen of 100 Leishmania antigens as DNA vaccines in mice. Here we employ whole blood assays to evaluate human cytokine responses to 11 of these antigens, in comparison to known defined and crude antigen preparations.
Whole blood assays were employed to measure IFN-γ, TNF-α and IL-10 responses to peptide pools of the novel antigens R71, Q51, L37, N52, L302.06, J89, M18, J41, M22, M63, M57, as well as to recombinant proteins of tryparedoxin peroxidase (TRYP), Leishmania homolog of the receptor for activated C kinase (LACK) and to crude soluble Leishmania antigen (SLA), in Indian patients with active (n = 8) or cured (n = 16) VL, and in modified Quantiferon positive (EHC+ve, n = 20) or modified Quantiferon negative (EHC−ve, n = 9) endemic healthy controls (EHC).
Active VL, cured VL and EHC+ve groups showed elevated SLA-specific IFN-γ, but only active VL patients produced IL-10 and EHC+ve did not make TNF-α. IFN-γ to IL-10 and TNF-α to IL-10 ratios in response to TRYP and LACK antigens were higher in cured VL and EHC+ve exposed individuals compared to active VL. Five of the eleven novel candidates (R71, L37, N52, J41, and M22) elicited IFN-γ and TNF-α, but not IL-10, responses in cured VL (55–87.5% responders) and EHC+ve (40–65% responders) subjects.
Our results are consistent with an important balance between pro-inflammatory IFNγ and TNFγ cytokine responses and anti-inflammatory IL-10 in determining outcome of VL in India, as highlighted by response to both crude and defined protein antigens. Importantly, cured VL patients and endemic Quantiferon positive individuals recognise 5 novel vaccine candidate antigens, confirming our recent data for L. chagasi in Brazil, and their potential as cross-species vaccine candidates.
Visceral leishmaniasis is a parasitic infection that results in death in susceptible people unless they are treated. Current drugs are expensive and toxic, and there are no vaccines in use in humans. We know that it is possible to become immune to infection with this parasite because people who have been cured using drug treatment are resistant to further infection. In addition, a large percentage of people infected with the parasite remain asymptomatic and develop a specific immune response that can be measured using crude leishmanial antigens. We hypothesized that these resistant people might hold the key to understanding the kind of immune response required for protection. In this paper we compared the immune response to a series of novel vaccine candidates in people with active disease, in those drug-cured from the disease, and in the naturally resistant individuals. We show that immune individuals make strong cytokine responses to five of eleven novel vaccine candidates that were tested, making them ideal candidates to take forward in the development of a defined vaccine against leishmaniasis.