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Infect Immun. 2003 Oct;71(10):5605-12.

Protection against syphilis correlates with specificity of antibodies to the variable regions of Treponema pallidum repeat protein K.

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  • 1Department of Pathobiology, University of Washington, 1959 NE Pacific Street, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.


Syphilis has been recognized as a disease since the late 1400s, yet there is no practical vaccine available. One impediment to the development of a vaccine is the lack of understanding of multiple reinfections in humans despite the development of robust immune responses during the first episode. It has been shown that the Treponema pallidum repeat protein K (TprK) differs in seven discrete variable (V) regions in isolates and that the antibody response during infection is directed to these V regions. Immunization with TprK confers significant protection against infection with the homologous strain. We hypothesize that the antigenic diversity of TprK is involved in immune evasion, which contributes to the lack of heterologous protection. Here, using the rabbit model, we show a correlation between limited heterologous protection and tprK diversity in the challenge inoculum. We demonstrate that antibody responses to the V regions of one TprK molecule show limited cross-reactivity with heterologous TprK V regions.

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