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PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2013 May 30;7(5):e2248. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0002248. Print 2013.

Antibody signature of spontaneous clearance of Chlamydia trachomatis ocular infection and partial resistance against re-challenge in a nonhuman primate trachoma model.

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  • 1Laboratory of Intracellular Parasites, Rocky Mountain Laboratories, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Hamilton, Montana, USA.



Chlamydia trachomatis is the etiological agent of trachoma the world's leading cause of infectious blindness. Here, we investigate whether protracted clearance of a primary infection in nonhuman primates is attributable to antigenic variation or related to the maturation of the anti-chlamydial humoral immune response specific to chlamydial antigens.


Genomic sequencing of organisms isolated throughout the protracted primary infection revealed that antigenic variation was not related to the inability of monkeys to efficiently resolve their infection. To explore the maturation of the humoral immune response as a possible reason for delayed clearance, sera were analyzed by radioimmunoprecipitation using intrinsically radio-labeled antigens prepared under non-denaturing conditions. Antibody recognition was restricted to the antigenically variable major outer membrane protein (MOMP) and a few antigenically conserved antigens. Recognition of MOMP occurred early post-infection and correlated with reduction in infectious ocular burdens but not with infection eradication. In contrast, antibody recognition of conserved antigens, identified as PmpD, Hsp60, CPAF and Pgp3, appeared late and correlated with infection eradication. Partial immunity to re-challenge was associated with a discernible antibody recall response against all antigens. Antibody recognition of PmpD and CPAF was destroyed by heat treatment while MOMP and Pgp3 were partially affected, indicating that antibody specific to conformational epitopes on these proteins may be important to protective immunity.


Our findings suggest that delayed clearance of chlamydial infection in NHP is not the result of antigenic variation but rather a consequence of the gradual maturation of the C. trachomatis antigen-specific humoral immune response. However, we cannot conclude that antibodies specific for these proteins play the primary role in host protective immunity as they could be surrogate markers of T cell immunity. Collectively, our results argue that an efficacious subunit trachoma vaccine might require a combination of these antigens delivered in their native conformation.

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