Antibodies against the protective antigen (PA) component of anthrax toxin play an important role in protection against disease caused by Bacillus anthracis. In this study, we examined defined combinations of PA-specific monoclonal antibodies for their ability to neutralize anthrax toxin in cell culture assays. We observed additive, synergistic, and antagonistic effects of the antibodies depending on the specific antibody combination examined and the specific assay used. Synergistic toxin-neutralizing antibody interactions were examined in more detail. We found that one mechanism that can lead to antibody synergy is the bridging of PA monomers by one antibody, with resultant bivalent binding of the second antibody. These results may aid in optimal design of new vaccines and antibody therapies against anthrax.
Anthrax lethal toxin (LT), produced by the Gram-positive bacterium Bacillus anthracis, is a highly effective zinc dependent metalloprotease that cleaves the N-terminus of mitogen-activated protein kinase kinases (MAPKK or MEKs) and is known to play a role in impairing the host immune system during an inhalation anthrax infection. Here, we present the transcriptional responses of LT treated human monocytes in order to further elucidate the mechanisms of LT inhibition on the host immune system.
Western Blot analysis demonstrated cleavage of endogenous MEK1 and MEK3 when human monocytes were treated with 500 ng/mL LT for four hours, proving their susceptibility to anthrax lethal toxin. Furthermore, staining with annexin V and propidium iodide revealed that LT treatment did not induce human peripheral monocyte apoptosis or necrosis. Using Affymetrix Human Genome U133 Plus 2.0 Arrays, we identified over 820 probe sets differentially regulated after LT treatment at the p <0.001 significance level, interrupting the normal transduction of over 60 known pathways. As expected, the MAPKK signaling pathway was most drastically affected by LT, but numerous genes outside the well-recognized pathways were also influenced by LT including the IL-18 signaling pathway, Toll-like receptor pathway and the IFN alpha signaling pathway. Multiple genes involved in actin regulation, signal transduction, transcriptional regulation and cytokine signaling were identified after treatment with anthrax LT.
We conclude LT directly targets human peripheral monocytes and causes multiple aberrant gene responses that would be expected to be associated with defects in human monocyte’s normal signaling transduction pathways and function. This study provides further insights into the mechanisms associated with the host immune system collapse during an anthrax infection, and suggests that anthrax LT may have additional downstream targets outside the well-known MAPK pathway.
Secondary cell wall polysaccharides (SCWPs) are important structural components of the Bacillus cell wall and contribute to the array of antigens presented by these organisms in both spore and vegetative forms. We previously found that antisera raised to Bacillus anthracis spore preparations cross-reacted with SCWPs isolated from several strains of pathogenic B. cereus, but did not react with other phylogenetically related but nonpathogenic Bacilli, suggesting that the SCWP from B. anthracis and pathogenic B. cereus strains share specific structural features. In this study, SCWPs from three strains of B. cereus causing severe or fatal pneumonia (G9241, 03BB87 and 03BB102) were isolated and subjected to structural analysis and their structures were compared to SCWPs from B. anthracis. Complete structural analysis was performed for the B. cereus G9241 SCWP using NMR spectroscopy, mass spectrometry and derivatization methods. The analyses show that SCWPs from B. cereus G9241 has a glycosyl backbone identical to that of B. anthracis SCWP, consisting of multiple trisaccharide repeats of: →6)-α-d-GlcpNAc-(1 → 4)-β-d-ManpNAc-(1 → 4)-β-d-GlcpNAc-(1→. Both the B. anthracis and pathogenic B. cereus SCWPs are highly substituted at all GlcNAc residues with α- and β-Gal residues, however, only the SCWPs from B. cereus G9241 and 03BB87 carry an additional α-Gal substitution at O-3 of ManNAc residues, a feature lacking in the B. anthracis SCWPs. Both the B. anthracis and B. cereus SCWPs are pyruvylated, with an approximate molecular mass of ≈12,000 Da. The implications of these findings regarding pathogenicity and cell wall structure are discussed.
Bacillus anthracis; Bacillus cereus; cell wall; polysaccharide; structure
Swine origin 2009 H1N1 influenza virus has spread globally to cause the first influenza pandemic of the 21st century. Serological studies can improve our understanding of the extent of human infection and risk factors associated with the transmission of this pandemic virus. The “gold standard” for serodiagnosis of human influenza virus infection is the detection of seroconversion between acute- and convalescent-stage samples. However, the timing of seroepidemiological investigations often precludes the collection of truly acute-phase sera, requiring development of serological criteria for evaluating convalescent-phase sera that optimize detection of true positives and true negatives. To guide seroepidemiological investigations into the spread of the novel 2009 pandemic H1N1 virus, we characterized serum antibody responses to 2009 H1N1 virus in 87 individuals with confirmed viral infection and 227 nonexposed U.S. individuals using microneutralization (MN) and hemagglutination inhibition (HI) assays. Sensitivity and specificity were determined for each assay alone and in combination for detection of 2009 H1N1 virus-specific antibodies in convalescent-phase sera. Although the HI assay was more specific for detecting antibody to 2009 H1N1, the MN assay was more sensitive, particularly for detecting low-titer seroconversions. A combination of titers (MN ≥ 40 and HI ≥ 20) provided the highest sensitivity (90%) and specificity (96%) for individuals aged <60 years and 92% specificity for adults aged ≥60 years for detection of serologically confirmed 2009 H1N1 infections in U.S. populations during the first pandemic waves. These studies provide an approach to optimize timely serological investigations for future pandemics or outbreaks of novel influenza viruses among humans.
The Bacillus anthracis exosporium protein BclA contains an O-linked antigenic tetrasaccharide whose terminal sugar is known as anthrose (J. M. Daubenspeck et al., J. Biol. Chem. 279:30945–30953, 2004). We hypothesized that serologic responses to anthrose may have diagnostic value in confirming exposure to aerosolized B. anthracis. We evaluated the serologic responses to a synthetic anthrose-containing trisaccharide (ATS) in a group of five rhesus macaques that survived inhalation anthrax following exposure to B. anthracis Ames spores. Two of five animals (RM2 and RM3) were treated with ciprofloxacin starting at 48 hours postexposure and two (RM4 and RM5) at 72 h postexposure; one animal (RM1) was untreated. Infection was confirmed by blood culture and detection of anthrax toxin lethal factor (LF) in plasma. Anti-ATS IgG responses were determined at 14, 21, 28, and 35 days postexposure, with preexposure serum as a control. All animals, irrespective of ciprofloxacin treatment, mounted a specific, measurable anti-ATS IgG response. The earliest detectable responses were on days 14 (RM1, RM2, and RM5), 21 (RM4), and 28 (RM3). Specificity of the anti-ATS responses was demonstrated by competitive-inhibition enzyme immunoassay (CIEIA), in which a 2-fold (wt/wt) excess of carbohydrate in a bovine serum albumin (BSA) conjugate of the oligosaccharide (ATS-BSA) effected >94% inhibition, whereas a structural analog lacking the 3-hydroxy-3-methyl-butyryl moiety at the C-4" of the anthrosyl residue had no inhibition activity. These data suggest that anti-ATS antibody responses may be used to identify aerosol exposure to B. anthracis spores. The anti-ATS antibody responses were detectable during administration of ciprofloxacin.
Cutaneous anthrax outbreaks occurred in Bangladesh from August to October 2009. As part of the epidemiological response and to confirm anthrax diagnoses, serum samples were collected from suspected case patients with observed cutaneous lesions. Anthrax lethal factor (LF), anti-protective antigen (anti-PA) immunoglobulin G (IgG), and anthrax lethal toxin neutralization activity (TNA) levels were determined in acute and convalescent serum of 26 case patients with suspected cutaneous anthrax from the first and largest of these outbreaks. LF (0.005–1.264 ng/mL) was detected in acute serum from 18 of 26 individuals. Anti-PA IgG and TNA were detected in sera from the same 18 individuals and ranged from 10.0 to 679.5 μg/mL and 27 to 593 units, respectively. Seroconversion to serum anti-PA and TNA was found only in case patients with measurable toxemia. This is the first report of quantitative analysis of serum LF in cutaneous anthrax and the first to associate acute stage toxemia with subsequent antitoxin antibody responses.
Anthrax toxin (ATx) is composed of the binary exotoxins lethal toxin (LTx) and edema toxin (ETx). They have separate effector proteins (edema factor and lethal factor) but have the same binding protein, protective antigen (PA). PA is the primary immunogen in the current licensed vaccine anthrax vaccine adsorbed (AVA [BioThrax]). AVA confers protective immunity by stimulating production of ATx-neutralizing antibodies, which could block the intoxication process at several steps (binding of PA to the target cell surface, furin cleavage, toxin complex formation, and binding/translocation of ATx into the cell). To evaluate ATx neutralization by anti-AVA antibodies, we developed two low-temperature LTx neutralization activity (TNA) assays that distinguish antibody blocking before and after binding of PA to target cells (noncomplexed [NC] and receptor-bound [RB] TNA assays). These assays were used to investigate anti-PA antibody responses in AVA-vaccinated rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) that survived an aerosol challenge with Bacillus anthracis Ames spores. Results showed that macaque anti-AVA sera neutralized LTx in vitro, even when PA was prebound to cells. Neutralization titers in surviving versus nonsurviving animals and between prechallenge and postchallenge activities were highly correlated. These data demonstrate that AVA stimulates a myriad of antibodies that recognize multiple neutralizing epitopes and confirm that change, loss, or occlusion of epitopes after PA is processed from PA83 to PA63 at the cell surface does not significantly affect in vitro neutralizing efficacy. Furthermore, these data support the idea that the full-length PA83 monomer is an appropriate immunogen for inclusion in next-generation anthrax vaccines.
The immunoreactivities of hydrogen fluoride (HF)-released cell wall polysaccharides (HF-PSs) from selected Bacillus anthracis and Bacillus cereus strains were compared using antisera against live and killed B. anthracis spores. These antisera bound to the HF-PSs from B. anthracis and from three clinical B. cereus isolates (G9241, 03BB87, and 03BB102) obtained from cases of severe or fatal human pneumonia but did not bind to the HF-PSs from the closely related B. cereus ATCC 10987 or from B. cereus type strain ATCC 14579. Antiserum against a keyhole limpet hemocyanin conjugate of the B. anthracis HF-PS (HF-PS-KLH) also bound to HF-PSs and cell walls from B. anthracis and the three clinical B. cereus isolates, and B. anthracis spores. These results indicate that the B. anthracis HF-PS is an antigen in both B. anthracis cell walls and spores, and that it shares cross-reactive, and possibly pathogenicity-related, epitopes with three clinical B. cereus isolates that caused severe disease. The anti-HF-PS-KLH antiserum cross-reacted with the bovine serum albumin (BSA)-conjugates of all B. anthracis and all B. cereus HF-PSs tested, including those from nonclinical B. cereus ATCC 10987 and ATCC 14579 strains. Finally, the serum of vaccinated (anthrax vaccine adsorbed (AVA)) Rhesus macaques that survived inhalation anthrax contained IgG antibodies that bound the B. anthracis HF-PS-KLH conjugate. These data indicate that HF-PSs from the cell walls of the bacilli tested here are (i) antigens that contain (ii) a potentially virulence-associated carbohydrate antigen motif, and (iii) another antigenic determinant that is common to B. cereus strains.
antigens; Bacillus anthracis; Bacillus cereus; polysaccharides; specificity
Bacillus anthracis vaccine candidate: Sera of rabbits exposed to live and irradiated-killed spores of B. anthracis Sterne 34F2 or immunized with B. anthracis polysaccharide conjugated to KLH elicited antibodies that recognize isolated polysaccharide and two synthetic trisaccharides providing a proof-of-concept step in the development of vegetative and spore-specific reagents for detection and targeting of non-protein structures of B. anthracis.
Bacillus anthracis; glycoconjugate; oligosaccharide; vaccine; protein conjugation
Systemic anthrax manifests as toxemia, rapidly disseminating septicemia, immune collapse, and death. Virulence factors include the anti-phagocytic γ-linked poly-d-glutamic acid (PGA) capsule and two binary toxins, complexes of protective antigen (PA) with lethal factor (LF) and edema factor. We report the characterization of LF, PA, and PGA levels during the course of inhalation anthrax in five rhesus macaques. We describe bacteremia, blood differentials, and detection of the PA gene (pagA) by PCR analysis of the blood as confirmation of infection. For four of five animals tested, LF exhibited a triphasic kinetic profile. LF levels (mean ± standard error [SE] between animals) were low at 24 h postchallenge (0.03 ± 1.82 ng/ml), increased at 48 h to 39.53 ± 0.12 ng/ml (phase 1), declined at 72 h to 13.31 ± 0.24 ng/ml (phase 2), and increased at 96 h (82.78 ± 2.01 ng/ml) and 120 h (185.12 ± 5.68 ng/ml; phase 3). The fifth animal had an extended phase 2. PGA levels were triphasic; they were nondetectable at 24 h, increased at 48 h (2,037 ± 2 ng/ml), declined at 72 h (14 ± 0.2 ng/ml), and then increased at 96 h (3,401 ± 8 ng/ml) and 120 h (6,004 ± 187 ng/ml). Bacteremia was also triphasic: positive at 48 h, negative at 72 h, and positive at euthanasia. Blood neutrophils increased from preexposure (34.4% ± 0.13%) to 48 h (75.6% ± 0.08%) and declined at 72 h (62.4% ± 0.05%). The 72-h declines may establish a “go/no go” turning point in infection, after which systemic bacteremia ensues and the host's condition deteriorates. This study emphasizes the value of LF detection as a tool for early diagnosis of inhalation anthrax before the onset of fulminant systemic infection.
Inhalation anthrax results in high-grade bacteremia and is accompanied by a delay in the rise of the peripheral polymorphonuclear neutrophil (PMN) count and a paucity of PMNs in the infected pleural fluid and mediastinum. Edema toxin (ET) is one of the major Bacillus anthracis virulence factors and consists of the adenylate cyclase edema factor (EF) and protective antigen (PA). Relatively low concentrations of ET (100 to 500 ng/ml of PA and EF) significantly impair human PMN chemokinesis, chemotaxis, and ability to polarize. These changes are accompanied by a reduction in chemoattractant-stimulated PMN actin assembly. ET also causes a significant decrease in Listeria monocytogenes intracellular actin-based motility within HeLa cells. These defects in actin assembly are accompanied by a >50-fold increase in intracellular cyclic AMP and a >4-fold increase in the phosphorylation of protein kinase A. We have previously shown that anthrax lethal toxin (LT) also impairs neutrophil actin-based motility (R. L. During, W. Li, B. Hao, J. M. Koenig, D. S. Stephens, C. P. Quinn, and F. S. Southwick, J. Infect. Dis. 192:837-845, 2005), and we now find that LT combined with ET causes an additive inhibition of PMN chemokinesis, polarization, chemotaxis, and FMLP (N-formyl-met-leu-phe)-induced actin assembly. We conclude that ET alone or combined with LT impairs PMN actin assembly, resulting in paralysis of PMN chemotaxis.
Members of the Bacillus cereus group contain cell wall carbohydrates that vary in their glycosyl compositions. Recent multilocus sequence typing (MLST) refined the relatedness of B. cereus group members by separating them into clades and lineages. Based on MLST, we selected several B. anthracis, B. cereus, and B. thuringiensis strains and compared their cell wall carbohydrates. The cell walls of different B. anthracis strains (clade 1/Anthracis) were composed of glucose (Glc), galactose (Gal), N-acetyl mannosamine (ManNAc), and N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc). In contrast, the cell walls from clade 2 strains (B. cereus type strain ATCC 14579 and B. thuringiensis strains) lacked Gal and contained N-acetylgalactosamine (GalNAc). The B. cereus clade 1 strains had cell walls that were similar in composition to B. anthracis in that they all contained Gal. However, the cell walls from some clade 1 strains also contained GalNAc, which was not present in B. anthracis cell walls. Three recently identified clade 1 strains of B. cereus that caused severe pneumonia, i.e., strains 03BB102, 03BB87, and G9241, had cell wall compositions that closely resembled those of the B. anthracis strains. It was also observed that B. anthracis strains cell wall glycosyl compositions differed from one another in a plasmid-dependent manner. When plasmid pXO2 was absent, the ManNAc/Gal ratio decreased, while the Glc/Gal ratio increased. Also, deletion of atxA, a global regulatory gene, from a pXO2− strain resulted in cell walls with an even greater level of Glc.
In vivo induced antigen technology (IVIAT) is an immuno-screening technique that identifies bacterial antigens expressed during infection and not during standard in vitro culturing conditions. We applied IVIAT to Bacillus anthracis and identified PagA, seven members of a N-acetylmuramoyl-L-alanine amidase autolysin family, three P60 family lipoproteins, two transporters, spore cortex lytic protein SleB, a penicillin binding protein, a putative prophage holin, respiratory nitrate reductase NarG, and three proteins of unknown function. Using quantitative real-time PCR comparing RNA isolated from in vitro cultured B. anthracis to RNA isolated from BALB/c mice infected with virulent Ames strain B. anthracis, we confirmed induced expression in vivo for a subset of B. anthracis genes identified by IVIAT, including L-alanine amidases BA3767, BA4073, and amiA (pXO2-42); the bacteriophage holin gene BA4074; and pagA (pXO1-110). The exogenous addition of two purified putative autolysins identified by IVIAT, N-acetylmuramoyl-L-alanine amidases BA0485 and BA2446, to vegetative B. anthracis cell suspensions induced a species-specific change in bacterial morphology and reduction in viable bacterial cells. Many of the proteins identified in our screen are predicted to affect peptidoglycan re-modeling, and our results support significant cell wall structural remodeling activity during B. anthracis infection. Identification of L-alanine amidases with B. anthracis specificity may suggest new potential therapeutic targets.
The unpredictable nature of bioterrorism and the absence of real-time detection systems have highlighted the need for an efficient postexposure therapy for Bacillus anthracis infection. One approach is passive immunization through the administration of antibodies that mitigate the biological action of anthrax toxin. We isolated and characterized two protective fully human monoclonal antibodies with specificity for protective antigen (PA) and lethal factor (LF). These antibodies, designated IQNPA (anti-PA) and IQNLF (anti-LF), were developed as hybridomas from individuals immunized with licensed anthrax vaccine. The effective concentration of IQNPA that neutralized 50% of the toxin in anthrax toxin neutralization assays was 0.3 nM, while 0.1 nM IQNLF neutralized the same amount of toxin. When combined, the antibodies had additive neutralization efficacy. IQNPA binds to domain IV of PA containing the host cell receptor binding site, while IQNLF recognizes domain I containing the PA binding region in LF. A single 180-μg dose of either antibody given to A/J mice 2.5 h before challenge conferred 100% protection against a lethal intraperitoneal spore challenge with 24 50% lethal doses [LD50s] of B. anthracis Sterne and against rechallenge on day 20 with a more aggressive challenge dose of 41 LD50s. Mice treated with either antibody and infected with B. anthracis Sterne developed detectable murine anti-PA and anti-LF immunoglobulin G antibody responses by day 17 that were dependent on which antibody the mice had received. Based on these results, IQNPA and IQNLF act independently during prophylactic anthrax treatment and do not interfere with the establishment of endogenous immunity.
Evidence from animals suggests that anti-anthrax protective antigen (PA) immunoglobulin G (IgG) from vaccination with anthrax vaccine adsorbed (AVA) is protective against Bacillus anthracis infection. Measurement of anti-PA IgG in human sera can be performed using either enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay or fluorescent covalent microsphere immunoassay (ELISA) (R. E. Biagini, D. L. Sammons, J. P. Smith, B. A. MacKenzie, C. A. Striley, V. Semenova, E. Steward-Clark, K. Stamey, A. E. Freeman, C. P. Quinn, and J. E. Snawder, Clin. Diagn. Lab. Immunol. 11:50-55, 2004). Both these methods are laboratory based. We describe the development of a rapid lateral-flow immunochromatographic assay (LFIA) test kit for the measurement of anti-PA IgG in serum or whole-blood samples (30-μl samples) using colloidal gold nanoparticles as the detection reagent and an internal control. Using sera from 19 anthrax AVA vaccinees (anti-PA IgG range, 2.4 to 340 μg/ml) and 10 controls and PA-supplemented whole-blood samples, we demonstrated that the LFIA had a sensitivity of approximately 3 μg/ml anti-PA IgG in serum and ∼14 μg/ml anti-PA IgG in whole blood. Preabsorption of sera with PA yielded negative anti-PA LFIAs. The diagnostic sensitivity and specificity of the assay were 100% using ELISA-measured anti-PA IgG as the standard. This kit has utility in determining anti-PA antibody reactivity in the sera of individuals vaccinated with AVA or individuals with clinical anthrax.
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an accurate, sensitive, specific, reproducible, and quantitative enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies to Bacillus anthracis protective antigen (PA) in human serum (C. P. Quinn, V. A. Semenova, C. M. Elie et al., Emerg. Infect. Dis. 8:1103-1110, 2002). The ELISA had a minimum detectable concentration (MDC) of 0.06 μg/ml, which, when dilution adjusted, yielded a whole-serum MDC of 3.0 μg of anti-PA IgG per ml. The reliable detection limit (RDL) was 0.09 μg/ml, while the dynamic range was 0.06 to 1.7 μg/ml. The diagnostic sensitivity of the assay was 97.6% and the diagnostic specificity was 94.2% for clinically verified cases of anthrax. A competitive inhibition anti-PA IgG ELISA was also developed to enhance the diagnostic specificity to 100%. We report a newly developed fluorescence covalent microbead immunosorbent assay (FCMIA) for B. anthracis PA which was Luminex xMap technology. The FCMIA MDC was 0.006 μg of anti-PA IgG per ml, the RDL was 0.016 μg/ml, and the whole-serum equivalent MDC was 1.5 μg/ml. The dynamic range was 0.006 to 6.8 μg/ml. Using this system, we analyzed 20 serum samples for anti-PA IgG and compared our results to those measured by ELISA in a double-masked analysis. The two methods had a high positive correlation (r2 = 0.852; P < 0.001). The FCMIA appears to have benefits over the ELISA for the measurement of anti-PA IgG, including greater sensitivity and speed, enhanced dynamic range and reagent stability, the use of smaller sample volumes, and the ability to be multiplexed (measurement of more than one analyte simultaneously), as evidenced by the multiplexed measurement in the present report of anti-PA and anti-lethal factor IgG in serum from a confirmed clinical anthrax infection.
On October 4, 2001, we confirmed the first bioterrorism-related anthrax case identified in the United States in a resident of Palm Beach County, Florida. Epidemiologic investigation indicated that exposure occurred at the workplace through intentionally contaminated mail. One additional case of inhalational anthrax was identified from the index patient’s workplace. Among 1,076 nasal cultures performed to assess exposure, Bacillus anthracis was isolated from a co-worker later confirmed as being infected, as well as from an asymptomatic mail-handler in the same workplace. Environmental cultures for B. anthracis showed contamination at the workplace and six county postal facilities. Environmental and nasal swab cultures were useful epidemiologic tools that helped direct the investigation towards the infection source and transmission vehicle. We identified 1,114 persons at risk and offered antimicrobial prophylaxis.
Anthrax; Bacillus anthracis; bioterrorism; nasal swab cultures; environmental cultures
The bioterrorism-associated human anthrax epidemic in the fall of 2001 highlighted the need for a sensitive, reproducible, and specific laboratory test for the confirmatory diagnosis of human anthrax. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed, optimized, and rapidly qualified an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies to Bacillus anthracis protective antigen (PA) in human serum. The qualified ELISA had a minimum detection limit of 0.06 µg/mL, a reliable lower limit of detection of 0.09 µg/mL, and a lower limit of quantification in undiluted serum specimens of 3.0 µg/mL anti-PA IgG. The diagnostic sensitivity of the assay was 97.8%, and the diagnostic specificity was 94.2%. A competitive inhibition anti-PA IgG ELISA was also developed to enhance diagnostic specificity to 100%. The anti-PA ELISAs proved valuable for the confirmation of cases of cutaneous and inhalational anthrax and evaluation of patients in whom the diagnosis of anthrax was being considered.
Bacillus anthracis; anthrax; antibody; assay; toxin; bioterrorism; ELISA; serology
On October 15, 2001, a U.S. Senate staff member opened an envelope containing Bacillus anthracis spores. Chemoprophylaxis was promptly initiated and nasal swabs obtained for all persons in the immediate area. An epidemiologic investigation was conducted to define exposure areas and identify persons who should receive prolonged chemoprophylaxis, based on their exposure risk. Persons immediately exposed to B. anthracis spores were interviewed; records were reviewed to identify additional persons in this area. Persons with positive nasal swabs had repeat swabs and serial serologic evaluation to measure antibodies to B. anthracis protective antigen (anti-PA). A total of 625 persons were identified as requiring prolonged chemoprophylaxis; 28 had positive nasal swabs. Repeat nasal swabs were negative at 7 days; none had developed anti-PA antibodies by 42 days after exposure. Early nasal swab testing is a useful epidemiologic tool to assess risk of exposure to aerosolized B. anthracis. Early, wide chemoprophylaxis may have averted an outbreak of anthrax in this population.
Bacillus anthracis; nasal swabs; epidemiology; bioterrorism; postexposure prophylaxis
In October 2001, four cases of inhalational anthrax occurred in workers in a Washington, D.C., mail facility that processed envelopes containing Bacillus anthracis spores. We reviewed the envelopes’ paths and obtained exposure histories and nasal swab cultures from postal workers. Environmental sampling was performed. A sample of employees was assessed for antibody concentrations to B. anthracis protective antigen. Case-patients worked on nonoverlapping shifts throughout the facility. Environmental sampling showed diffuse contamination of the facility, suggesting multiple aerosolization events. Potential workplace exposures were similar for the case-patients and the sample of workers. All nasal swab cultures and serum antibody tests were negative. Available tools could not identify subgroups of employees at higher risk for exposure or disease. Prophylaxis was necessary for all employees. To protect postal workers against bioterrorism, measures to reduce the risk of occupational exposure are necessary.
bioterrorism; Bacillus anthracis; postal facility; inhalational anthrax
In October 2001, the first inhalational anthrax case in the United States since 1976 was identified in a media company worker in Florida. A national investigation was initiated to identify additional cases and determine possible exposures to Bacillus anthracis. Surveillance was enhanced through health-care facilities, laboratories, and other means to identify cases, which were defined as clinically compatible illness with laboratory-confirmed B. anthracis infection. From October 4 to November 20, 2001, 22 cases of anthrax (11 inhalational, 11 cutaneous) were identified; 5 of the inhalational cases were fatal. Twenty (91%) case-patients were either mail handlers or were exposed to worksites where contaminated mail was processed or received. B. anthracis isolates from four powder-containing envelopes, 17 specimens from patients, and 106 environmental samples were indistinguishable by molecular subtyping. Illness and death occurred not only at targeted worksites, but also along the path of mail and in other settings. Continued vigilance for cases is needed among health-care providers and members of the public health and law enforcement communities.
Clostridial neurotoxins potently and specifically inhibit neurotransmitter release in defined cell types by a mechanism that involves cleavage of specific components of the vesicle docking/fusion complex, the SNARE complex. A derivative of the type A neurotoxin from Clostridium botulinum (termed LHN/A) that retains catalytic activity can be prepared by proteolysis. The LHN/A, however, lacks the putative native binding domain (HC) of the neurotoxin and is thus unable to bind to neurons and effect inhibition of neurotransmitter release. Here we report the chemical conjugation of LHN/A to an alternative cell-binding ligand, wheat germ agglutinin (WGA). When applied to a variety of cell lines, including those that are ordinarily resistant to the effects of neurotoxin, WGA-LHN/A conjugate potently inhibits secretory responses in those cells. Inhibition of release is demonstrated to be ligand mediated and dose dependent and to occur via a mechanism involving endopeptidase-dependent cleavage of the natural botulinum neurotoxin type A substrate. These data confirm that the function of the HC domain of C. botulinum neurotoxin type A is limited to binding to cell surface moieties. The data also demonstrate that the endopeptidase and translocation functions of the neurotoxin are effective in a range of cell types, including those of nonneuronal origin. These observations lead to the conclusion that a clostridial endopeptidase conjugate that can be used to investigate SNARE-mediated processes in a variety of cells has been successfully generated.