Molecular Immune Responses to Aerosol Challenge with Francisella tularensis in Mice Inoculated with Live Vaccine Candidates of Varying Efficacy
Francisella tularensis is a facultative intracellular bacterial pathogen and the etiological agent of tularemia. The subspecies F. tularensis tularensis is especially virulent for humans when inhaled and respiratory tularemia is associated with high mortality if not promptly treated. A live vaccine strain (LVS) derived from the less virulent holarctica subspecies confers incomplete protection against aerosol challenge with subsp. tularensis. Moreover, correlates of protection have not been established for LVS.
In the present study we compare molecular immune responses elicited by LVS and two defined deletion mutants of clinical subsp. tularensis strain, SCHU S4, that confer enhanced protection in a mouse model. BALB/c mice were immunized intradermally then challenged with an aerosol of SCHU S4 six weeks later. Changes in the levels of a selected panel of cytokines and chemokines were examined in the lungs, spleens, and sera of vaccinated and challenged mice. Mostly, increased cytokine and chemokine levels correlated with increased bacterial burden. However, after adjusting for this variable, immunization with either of the two Schu S4 mutants resulted in higher levels of several pulmonary cytokines, versus those resulting after LVS immunization, including IL-17. Moreover, treatment of mice immunized with ΔclpB with anti-IL-17 antibodies post-challenge enhanced lung infection.
This is the first report characterizing local and systemic cytokine and chemokine responses in mice immunized with vaccines with different efficacies against aerosol challenge with virulent F. tularensis subsp. tularensis. It shows that increases in the levels of most of these immunomodulators, including those known to be critical for protective immunity, do not superficially correlate with protection unless adjusted for the effects of bacterial burden. Additionally, several cytokines were selectively suppressed in the lungs of naïve mice, suggesting that one mechanism of vaccine action is to overcome this pathogen-induced immunosuppression.
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