Bacillus anthracis was identified in a 61-year-old man hospitalized in Minnesota, USA. Cooperation between the hospital and the state health agency enhanced prompt identification of the pathogen. Treatment comprising antimicrobial drugs, anthrax immune globulin, and pleural drainage led to full recovery; however, the role of passive immunization in anthrax treatment requires further evaluation.
Inhalation anthrax; anthrax; anthrax immune globulin; critical care; anti-protective antigen; anti-PA; lethal factor; Minnesota; USA; Bacillus anthracis; zoonoses
Interindividual variations in vaccine-induced immune responses are in part due to host genetic polymorphisms in the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) and other gene families. This study examined associations between HLA genotypes, haplotypes, and homozygosity and protective antigen (PA)-specific cellular immune responses in healthy subjects following immunization with Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed (AVA). While limited associations were observed between individual HLA alleles or haplotypes and variable lymphocyte proliferative (LP) responses to AVA, analyses of homozygosity supported the hypothesis of a “heterozygote advantage.” Individuals who were homozygous for any HLA locus demonstrated significantly lower PA-specific LP than subjects who were heterozygous at all eight loci (median stimulation indices [SI], 1.84 versus 2.95, P = 0.009). Similarly, we found that class I (HLA-A) and class II (HLA-DQA1 and HLA-DQB1) homozygosity was significantly associated with an overall decrease in LP compared with heterozygosity at those three loci. Specifically, individuals who were homozygous at these loci had significantly lower PA-specific LP than subjects heterozygous for HLA-A (median SI, 1.48 versus 2.13, P = 0.005), HLA-DQA1 (median SI, 1.75 versus 2.11, P = 0.007), and HLA-DQB1 (median SI, 1.48 versus 2.13, P = 0.002) loci, respectively. Finally, homozygosity at an increasing number (≥4) of HLA loci was significantly correlated with a reduction in LP response (P < 0.001) in a dose-dependent manner. Additional studies are needed to reproduce these findings and determine whether HLA-heterozygous individuals generate stronger cellular immune response to other virulence factors (Bacillus anthracis LF and EF) than HLA-homozygous subjects.
U.S. National Park Service employees may have prolonged exposure to wildlife and arthropods, placing them at increased risk of infection with endemic zoonoses. To evaluate possible zoonotic risks present at both Great Smoky Mountains (GRSM) and Rocky Mountain (ROMO) National Parks, we assessed park employees for baseline seroprevalence to specific zoonotic pathogens, followed by evaluation of incident infections over a 1-year study period. Park personnel showed evidence of prior infection with a variety of zoonotic agents, including California serogroup bunyaviruses (31.9%), Bartonella henselae (26.7%), spotted fever group rickettsiae (22.2%), Toxoplasma gondii (11.1%), Anaplasma phagocytophilum (8.1%), Brucella spp. (8.9%), flaviviruses (2.2%), and Bacillus anthracis (1.5%). Over a 1-year study period, we detected incident infections with leptospirosis (5.7%), B. henselae (5.7%), spotted fever group rickettsiae (1.5%), T. gondii (1.5%), B. anthracis (1.5%), and La Crosse virus (1.5%) in staff members at GRSM, and with spotted fever group rickettsiae (8.5%) and B. henselae (4.3%) in staff at ROMO. The risk of any incident infection was greater for employees who worked as resource managers (OR 7.4; 95% CI 1.4,37.5; p=0.02), and as law enforcement rangers/rescue crew (OR 6.5; 95% CI 1.1,36.5; p=0.03), relative to those who worked primarily in administration or management. The results of this study increase our understanding of the pathogens circulating within both parks, and can be used to inform the development of effective guidelines and interventions to increase visitor and staff awareness and help prevent exposure to zoonotic agents.
Incidence; National Park Service; Prevalence; Vector-borne; Zoonoses
Bacteriophages express endolysins which are the enzymes that hydrolyze peptidoglycan resulting in cell lysis and release of bacteriophages. Endolysins have acquired stringent substrate specificities, which have been attributed to cell wall binding domains (CBD). Although it has been realized that CBDs of bacteriophages that infect Gram-positive bacteria target cell wall carbohydrate structures, molecular mechanisms that confer selectivity are not understood. A range of oligosaccharides, derived from the secondary cell wall polysaccharides of Bacillus anthracis, has been chemically synthesized. The compounds contain an α-D-GlcNAc-(1→4)-β-D-ManNAc-(1→4)-β-D-GlcNAc backbone that is modified by various patterns of α-D-Gal and β-D-Gal branching points. The library of compounds could readily be prepared by employing a core trisaccharide modified by the orthogonal protecting groups Nα-9-fluorenylmethyloxycarbonate (Fmoc), 2-methylnaphthyl ether (Nap) and levulinoyl ester (Lev) and dimethylthexylsilyl ether (TDS) at key branching points. Dissociation constants for the binding the cell wall binding domains of the endolysins PlyL and PlyG were determined by surface plasmon resonance (SPR). It was found that the pattern of galactosylation greatly influenced binding affinities, and in particular a compound having a galactosyl moiety at C-4 of the non-reducing GlcNAc moiety bound in the low micromolar range. It is known that secondary cell wall polysaccharides of various bacilli may have both common and variable structural features and in particular differences in the pattern of galactosylation have been noted. Therefore, it is proposed that specificity of endolysins for specific bacilli is achieved by selective binding to a uniquely galactosylated core structure.
Bacillus anthracis CDC 684 is a naturally occurring, avirulent variant and close relative of the highly pathogenic B. anthracis Vollum. Bacillus anthracis CDC 684 contains both virulence plasmids, pXO1 and pXO2, yet is non-pathogenic in animal models, prompting closer scrutiny of the molecular basis of attenuation. We structurally characterized the secondary cell wall polysaccharide (SCWP) of B. anthracis CDC 684 (Ba684) using chemical and NMR spectroscopy analysis. The SCWP consists of a HexNAc trisaccharide backbone having identical structure as that of B. anthracis Pasteur, Sterne and Ames, →4)-β-d-ManpNAc-(1 → 4)-β-d-GlcpNAc-(1 → 6)-α-d-GlcpNAc-(1→. Remarkably, although the backbone is fully polymerized, the SCWP is the devoid of all galactosyl side residues, a feature which normally comprises 50% of the glycosyl residues on the highly galactosylated SCWPs from pathogenic strains. This observation highlights the role of defective wall assembly in virulence and indicates that polymerization occurs independently of galactose side residue attachment. Of particular interest, the polymerized Ba684 backbone retains the substoichiometric pyruvate acetal, O-acetate and amino group modifications found on SCWPs from normal B. anthracis strains, and immunofluorescence analysis confirms that SCWP expression coincides with the ability to bind the surface layer homology (SLH) domain containing S-layer protein extractable antigen-1. Pyruvate was previously demonstrated as part of a conserved epitope, mediating SLH-domain protein attachment to the underlying peptidoglycan layer. We find that a single repeating unit, located at the distal (non-reducing) end of the Ba684 SCWP, is structurally modified and that this modification is present in identical manner in the SCWPs of normal B. anthracis strains. These polysaccharides terminate in the sequence: (S)-4,6-O-(1-carboxyethylidene)-β-d-ManpNAc-(1 → 4)-[3-O-acetyl]-β-d-GlcpNAc-(1 → 6)-α-d-GlcpNH2-(1→.
Bacillus anthracis; cell wall; polysaccharide; pyruvylation; structure
Several lines of evidence have supported a host genetic contribution to vaccine response, but genome-wide assessments for specific determinants have been sparse. Here we describe a genome-wide association study (GWAS) of protective antigen-specific antibody (AbPA) responses among 726 European-Americans who received Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed (AVA) as part of a clinical trial. After quality control, 736,996 SNPs were tested for association with the AbPA response to 3 or 4 AVA vaccinations given over a 6-month period. No SNP achieved the threshold of genome-wide significance (p=5x10−8), but suggestive associations (p<1x10−5) were observed for SNPs in or near the class II region of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), in the promoter region of SPSB1, and adjacent to MEX3C. Multivariable regression modeling suggested that much of the association signal within the MHC corresponded to previously identified HLA DR-DQ haplotypes involving component HLA-DRB1 alleles of *15:01, *01:01, or *01:02. We estimated the proportion of additive genetic variance explained by common SNP variation for the AbPA response after the 6 month vaccination. This analysis indicated a significant, albeit imprecisely estimated, contribution of variation tagged by common polymorphisms (p=0.032). Future studies will be required to replicate these findings in European Americans and to further elucidate the host genetic factors underlying variable immune response to AVA.
Anthrax vaccines; Bacillus anthracis; bacterial vaccines; vaccination; Genome-wide association study
Because clinical trials to assess the efficacy of vaccines against anthrax are not ethical or feasible, licensure for new anthrax vaccines will likely involve the Food and Drug Administration’s “Animal Rule,” a set of regulations that allow approval of products based on efficacy data only in animals combined with immunogenicity and safety data in animals and humans. US government sponsored animal studies have shown anthrax vaccine efficacy in a variety of settings. We examined data from 21 of those studies to determine if an immunological bridge based on lethal toxin neutralization activity assay (TNA) can predict survival against an inhalation anthrax challenge within and across species and genera. The 21 studies were classified into 11 different settings, each of which had the same animal species, vaccine type and formulation, vaccination schedule, time of TNA measurement, and challenge time. Logistic regression models determined the contribution of vaccine dilution dose and TNA on prediction of survival. For most settings, logistic models using only TNA explained more than 75% of the survival effect of the models with dose additionally included. Cross species survival predictions using TNA were compared to the actual survival and shown to have good agreement (Cohen’s κ ranged from 0.55 to 0.78). In one study design, cynomolgus macaque data predicted 78.6% survival in rhesus macaques (actual survival 83.0%) and 72.6% in rabbits (actual survival, 64.6%). These data add support for the use of TNA as an immunological bridge between species to extrapolate data in animals to predict anthrax vaccine effectiveness in humans.
animal rule; anthrax vaccine adsorbed; correlate of protection; recombinant protective antigen; toxin neutralizing activity assay
A 3-dose (0, 1, and 6 months) intramuscular (3-IM) priming series of a human dose (HuAVA) and dilutions of up to 1:10 of anthrax vaccine adsorbed (AVA) provided statistically significant levels of protection (60 to 100%) against inhalation anthrax for up to 4 years in rhesus macaques. Serum anti-protective antigen (anti-PA) IgG and lethal toxin neutralization activity (TNA) were detectable following a single injection of HuAVA or 1:5 AVA or following two injections of diluted vaccine (1:10, 1:20, or 1:40 AVA). Anti-PA and TNA were highly correlated (overall r2 = 0.89 for log10-transformed data). Peak responses were seen at 6.5 months. In general, with the exception of animals receiving 1:40 AVA, serum anti-PA and TNA responses remained significantly above control levels at 28.5 months (the last time point measured for 1:20 AVA), and through 50.5 months for the HuAVA and 1:5 and 1:10 AVA groups (P < 0.05). PA-specific gamma interferon (IFN-γ) and interleukin-4 (IL-4) CD4+ cell frequencies and T cell stimulation indices were sustained through 50.5 months (the last time point measured). PA-specific memory B cell frequencies were highly variable but, in general, were detectable in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) by 2 months, were significantly above control levels by 7 months, and remained detectable in the HuAVA and 1:5 and 1:20 AVA groups through 42 months (the last time point measured). HuAVA and diluted AVA elicited a combined Th1/Th2 response and robust immunological priming, with sustained production of high-avidity PA-specific functional antibody, long-term immune cell competence, and immunological memory (30 months for 1:20 AVA and 52 months for 1:10 AVA). Vaccinated animals surviving inhalation anthrax developed high-magnitude anamnestic anti-PA IgG and TNA responses.
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