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1.  Stochastic humoral immunity to Bacillus anthracis Protective Antigen: Identification of anti-peptide IgG correlating with seroconversion to Lethal Toxin neutralization 
Vaccine  2013;31(14):1856-1863.
A substantial fraction of individuals vaccinated against anthrax have low to immeasurable levels of serum Lethal Toxin (LeTx)-neutralizing activity. The only known correlate of protection against Bacillus anthracis in the currently licensed vaccine is magnitude of the IgG response to Protective Antigen (PA); however, some individuals producing high serum levels of anti-PA IgG fail to neutralize LeTx in vitro. This suggests that non-protective humoral responses to PA may be immunodominant in some individuals. Therefore, to better understand why anthrax vaccination elicits heterogeneous levels of protection, this study was designed to elucidate the relationship between anti-PA fine specificity and LeTx neutralization in response to PA vaccination. Inbred mice immunized with recombinant PA produced high levels of anti-PA IgG and neutralized LeTx in vitro and in vivo. Decapeptide binding studies using pooled sera reproducibly identified the same 9 epitopes. Unexpectedly, sera from individual mice revealed substantial heterogeneity in the anti-PA IgG and LeTx neutralization responses, despite relative genetic homogeneity, shared environment and exposure to the same immunogen. This heterogeneity permitted the identification of specificities that correlate with LeTx-neutralizing activity. IgG binding to six decapeptides comprising two PA epitopes, located in domains I and IV, significantly correlate with seroconversion to LeTx neutralization. These results indicate that stochastic variation in humoral immunity is likely to be a major contributor to the general problem of heterogeneity in vaccine responsiveness and suggest that vaccine effectiveness could be improved by approaches that focus the humoral response toward protective epitopes in a greater fraction of vaccinees.
doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2013.01.040
PMCID: PMC3614092  PMID: 23415781
Bacillus anthracis; Protective antigen; Vaccine; B cell epitope; Mice
2.  Human Monoclonal Antibodies Generated Following Vaccination with AVA Provide Neutralization by Blocking Furin Cleavage but not by Preventing Oligomerization 
Vaccine  2012;30(28):4276-4283.
In order to identify the combination of antibody-mediated mechanisms of neutralization that result from vaccination with anthrax vaccine adsorbed (AVA), we isolated antibody secreting cells from a single donor seven days after booster vaccination with AVA and generated nine fully human monoclonal antibodies (hmAb) with high specificity for protective antigen (PA). Two of the antibodies were able to neutralize lethal toxin in vitro at low concentrations (IC50: p6C01, 0.12 µg/ml and p6F01, 0.45 µg/ml). Passive transfer of either of these hmAbs to A/J mice prior to challenge with lethal toxin conferred 80–90% protection. We demonstrate that hmAb p6C01 is neutralizing by preventing furin cleavage of PA in a dose-dependent manner, but the mechanism of p6F01 is unclear. Three additional antibodies were found to bind to domain 3 of PA and prevent oligomerization, although they did not confer significant protection in vivo and showed a significant prozone-like effect in vitro. These fully human antibodies provide insight into the neutralizing response to AVA for future subunit vaccine and passive immunotherapeutic cocktail design.
doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2012.03.002
PMCID: PMC3367042  PMID: 22425791
anthrax; Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed; human monoclonal antibodies; passive immunotherapeutics; protective antigen
3.  MHC Class II and Non-MHC Class II Genes Differentially Influence Humoral Immunity to Bacillus anthracis Lethal Factor and Protective Antigen 
Toxins  2012;4(12):1451-1467.
Anthrax Lethal Toxin consists of Protective Antigen (PA) and Lethal Factor (LF), and current vaccination strategies focus on eliciting antibodies to PA. In human vaccination, the response to PA can vary greatly, and the response is often directed toward non-neutralizing epitopes. Variable vaccine responses have been shown to be due in part to genetic differences in individuals, with both MHC class II and other genes playing roles. Here, we investigated the relative contribution of MHC class II versus non-MHC class II genes in the humoral response to PA and LF immunization using three immunized strains of inbred mice: A/J (H-2k at the MHC class II locus), B6 (H-2b), and B6.H2k (H-2k). IgG antibody titers to LF were controlled primarily by the MHC class II locus, whereas IgG titers to PA were strongly influenced by the non-MHC class II genetic background. Conversely, the humoral fine specificity of reactivity to LF appeared to be controlled primarily through non-MHC class II genes, while the specificity of reactivity to PA was more dependent on MHC class II. Common epitopes, reactive in all strains, occurred in both LF and PA responses. These results demonstrate that MHC class II differentially influences humoral immune responses to LF and PA.
doi:10.3390/toxins4121451
PMCID: PMC3528256  PMID: 23342680
Bacillus anthracis; protective antigen; lethal factor; vaccine; antibody response; MHC class II; mouse; genetic background
4.  Anthrax Vaccination Induced Anti-Lethal Factor IgG: Fine Specificity and Neutralizing Capacity 
Vaccine  2011;29(20):3670-3678.
The efficacy biomarker of the currently licensed anthrax vaccine (AVA) is based on quantity and neutralizing capacity of anti-Protective Antigen (anti-PA) antibodies. However, animal studies have demonstrated that antibodies to Lethal Factor (LF) can provide protection against in vivo bacterial spore challenges. Improved understanding of the fine specificities of humoral immune responses that provide optimum neutralization capacity may enhance the efficacy of future passive immune globulin preparations to treat and prevent inhalation anthrax morbidity and mortality. This study (n = 1000) was designed to identify AVA vaccinated individuals who generate neutralizing antibodies and to determine what specificities correlate with protection. The number of vaccine doses, years post vaccination, and PA titer were associated with in vitro neutralization, reinforcing previous reports. In addition, African American individuals had lower serologic neutralizing activity than European Americans, suggesting a genetic role in the generation of these neutralizing antibodies. Of the vaccinated individuals, only 69 (6.9%) had moderate levels of anti-LF IgG compared to 244 (24.4%) with low and 687 (68.7%) with extremely low levels of IgG antibodies to LF. Using overlapping decapeptide analysis, we identified six common LF antigenic regions targeted by those individuals with moderate levels of antibodies to LF and high in vitro toxin neutralizing activity. Affinity purified antibodies directed against antigenic epitopes within the PA binding and ADP-ribotransferase-like domains of LF were able to protect mice against lethal toxin challenge. Findings from these studies have important implications for vaccine design and immunotherapeutic development.
doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2011.03.011
PMCID: PMC3233230  PMID: 21420416
Bacillus anthracis; Anthrax; Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed; Lethal Factor; Protective Antigen; correlate of protection
5.  Anthrax Lethal Toxin-Induced Gene Expression Changes in Mouse Lung 
Toxins  2011;3(9):1111-1130.
A major virulence factor of Bacillus anthracis is the anthrax Lethal Toxin (LeTx), a bipartite toxin composed of Protective Antigen and Lethal Factor. Systemic administration of LeTx to laboratory animals leads to death associated with vascular leakage and pulmonary edema. In this study, we investigated whether systemic exposure of mice to LeTx would induce gene expression changes associated with vascular/capillary leakage in lung tissue. We observed enhanced susceptibility of A/J mice to death by systemic LeTx administration compared to the C57BL/6 strain. LeTx-induced groups of both up- and down-regulated genes were observed in mouse lungs 6 h after systemic administration of wild type toxin compared to lungs of mice exposed to an inactive mutant form of the toxin. Lungs of the less susceptible C57BL/6 strain showed 80% fewer differentially expressed genes compared to lungs of the more sensitive A/J strain. Expression of genes known to regulate vascular permeability was modulated by LeTx in the lungs of the more susceptible A/J strain. Unexpectedly, the largest set of genes with altered expression was immune specific, characterized by the up-regulation of lymphoid genes and the down-regulation of myeloid genes. Transcripts encoding neutrophil chemoattractants, modulators of tumor regulation and angiogenesis were also differentially expressed in both mouse strains. These studies provide new directions for the investigation of vascular leakage and pulmonary edema induced by anthrax LeTx.
doi:10.3390/toxins3091111
PMCID: PMC3202878  PMID: 22039574
Lethal Toxin; lung; gene expression
6.  Anthrax Lethal Toxin-Induced Gene Expression Changes in Mouse Lung 
Toxins  2011;3(9):1111-1130.
A major virulence factor of Bacillus anthracis is the anthrax Lethal Toxin (LeTx), a bipartite toxin composed of Protective Antigen and Lethal Factor. Systemic administration of LeTx to laboratory animals leads to death associated with vascular leakage and pulmonary edema. In this study, we investigated whether systemic exposure of mice to LeTx would induce gene expression changes associated with vascular/capillary leakage in lung tissue. We observed enhanced susceptibility of A/J mice to death by systemic LeTx administration compared to the C57BL/6 strain. LeTx-induced groups of both up- and down-regulated genes were observed in mouse lungs 6 h after systemic administration of wild type toxin compared to lungs of mice exposed to an inactive mutant form of the toxin. Lungs of the less susceptible C57BL/6 strain showed 80% fewer differentially expressed genes compared to lungs of the more sensitive A/J strain. Expression of genes known to regulate vascular permeability was modulated by LeTx in the lungs of the more susceptible A/J strain. Unexpectedly, the largest set of genes with altered expression was immune specific, characterized by the up-regulation of lymphoid genes and the down-regulation of myeloid genes. Transcripts encoding neutrophil chemoattractants, modulators of tumor regulation and angiogenesis were also differentially expressed in both mouse strains. These studies provide new directions for the investigation of vascular leakage and pulmonary edema induced by anthrax LeTx.
doi:10.3390/toxins3091111
PMCID: PMC3202878  PMID: 22039574
Lethal Toxin; lung; gene expression
7.  Select human anthrax protective antigen (PA) epitope-specific antibodies provide protection from lethal toxin challenge 
The Journal of infectious diseases  2010;202(2):251-260.
Bacillus anthracis remains a serious bioterrorism concern, and the currently licensed vaccine remains an incomplete solution for population protection from inhalation anthrax and has been associated with concerns regarding efficacy and safety. Thus, understanding how to generate long lasting protective immunity with reduced immunizations or providing protection through post exposure immunotherapeutics are long sought goals. Through evaluation of a large military cohort, we characterized the levels of antibodies against protective antigen and found that over half of anthrax vaccinees had low levels of in vitro toxin neutralization capacity in their sera. Using solid phase epitope mapping and confirmatory assays, we identified several neutralization-associated humoral epitopes and demonstrated that select anti-peptide responses mediated protection in vitro. Finally, passively transferred antibodies specific for select epitopes provided protection in an in vivo lethal toxin mouse model. Identification of these antigenic regions has important implications for vaccine design and the development of directed immunotherapeutics.
doi:10.1086/653495
PMCID: PMC2891133  PMID: 20533877
anthrax; vaccination; antibodies; protective antigen
8.  The Major Neutralizing Antibody Responses to Recombinant Anthrax Lethal and Edema Factors Are Directed to Non-Cross-Reactive Epitopes▿ †  
Infection and Immunity  2009;77(11):4714-4723.
Anthrax lethal and edema toxins (LeTx and EdTx, respectively) form by binding of lethal factor (LF) or edema factor (EF) to the pore-forming moiety protective antigen (PA). Immunity to LF and EF protects animals from anthrax spore challenge and neutralizes anthrax toxins. The goal of the present study is to identify linear B-cell epitopes of EF and to determine the relative contributions of cross-reactive antibodies of EF and LF to LeTx and EdTx neutralization. A/J mice were immunized with recombinant LF (rLF) or rEF. Pools of LF or EF immune sera were tested for reactivity to rLF or rEF by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays, in vitro neutralization of LeTx and EdTx, and binding to solid-phase LF and EF decapeptides. Cross-reactive antibodies were isolated by column absorption of EF-binding antibodies from LF immune sera and by column absorption of LF-binding antibodies from EF immune sera. The resulting fractions were subjected to the same assays. Major cross-reactive epitopes were identified as EF amino acids (aa) 257 to 268 and LF aa 265 to 274. Whole LF and EF immune sera neutralized LeTx and EdTx, respectively. However, LF sera did not neutralize EdTx, nor did EF sera neutralize LeTx. Purified cross-reactive immunoglobulin G also failed to cross-neutralize. Cross-reactive B-cell epitopes in the PA-binding domains of whole rLF and rEF occur and have been identified; however, the major anthrax toxin-neutralizing humoral responses to these antigens are constituted by non-cross-reactive epitopes. This work increases understanding of the immunogenicity of EF and LF and offers perspective for the development of new strategies for vaccination against anthrax.
doi:10.1128/IAI.00749-09
PMCID: PMC2772542  PMID: 19720758
9.  Sequential B-Cell Epitopes of Bacillus anthracis Lethal Factor Bind Lethal Toxin-Neutralizing Antibodies▿  
Infection and Immunity  2008;77(1):162-169.
The bipartite anthrax lethal toxin (LeTx) consisting of protective antigen (PA) and lethal factor (LF) is a major virulence factor contributing to death from systemic Bacillus anthracis infection. The current vaccine elicits antibodies directed primarily to PA; however, in experimental settings serologic responses to LF can neutralize LeTx and contribute to protection against infection. The goals of the present study were to identify sequential B-cell epitopes of LF and to determine the capacity of these determinants to bind neutralizing antibodies. Sera of recombinant LF-immunized A/J mice exhibited high titers of immunoglobulin G anti-LF reactivity that neutralized LeTx in vitro 78 days after the final booster immunization and protected the mice from in vivo challenge with 3 50% lethal doses of LeTx. These sera bound multiple discontinuous epitopes, and there were major clusters of reactivity on native LF. Strikingly, all three neutralizing, LF-specific monoclonal antibodies tested bound specific peptide sequences that coincided with sequential epitopes identified in polyclonal antisera from recombinant LF-immunized mice. This study confirms that LF induces high-titer protective antibodies in vitro and in vivo. Moreover, the binding of short LF peptides by LF-specific neutralizing monoclonal antibodies suggests that generation of protective antibodies by peptide vaccination may be feasible for this antigen. This study paves the way for a more effective anthrax vaccine by identifying discontinuous peptide epitopes of LF.
doi:10.1128/IAI.00788-08
PMCID: PMC2612257  PMID: 18981257
10.  Autoimmunity as a Result of Escape from RNA Surveillance 
In previous studies we detected a frame shift mutation in the gene encoding the autoantigen La of a patient with systemic lupus erythematosus. The mutant La mRNA contains a premature termination codon. mRNAs that prematurely terminate translation should be eliminated by RNA quality control mechanisms. As we find Abs specific for the mutant La form in about 30% of sera from anti-La positive patients we expected that mutant La mRNAs circumvent RNA control and the expression of mutant La protein could become harmful. Indeed, realtime PCR, immunostaining, and immunoblotting data of mice transgenic for the mutant La form show that mutant La mRNAs are not repressed in these animals and are translated to mutant La protein. In addition to the mutant La protein, we detected a minor portion of native human La in the mutant La transgenic mice. Therefore, ribosomal frame shifting may allow the mutant La mRNA to escape from RNA control. Interestingly, expression of the mutant La mRNA results in a lupus like disease in the experimental mice. Consequently, escape of mutant La mRNA from RNA control can have two effects: It (i) results in the expression of an immunogenic (neo)epitope, and (ii) predisposes to autoimmunity.
PMCID: PMC2206679  PMID: 16849479

Results 1-10 (10)