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Infect Immun. 2001 Aug;69(8):4799-807.

Conformational nature of the Borrelia burgdorferi decorin binding protein A epitopes that elicit protective antibodies.

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MedImmune, Inc., Gaithersburg, Maryland 20878, USA.


Decorin binding protein A (DbpA) has been shown by several laboratories to be a protective antigen for the prevention of experimental Borrelia burgdorferi infection in the mouse model of Lyme borreliosis. However, different recombinant forms of the antigen having either lipidated amino termini, approximating the natural secretion and posttranslational processing, or nonprocessed cytosolic forms have elicited disparate levels of protection in the mouse model. We have now used the unique functional properties of this molecule to investigate the structural requirements needed to elicit a protective immune response. Genetic and physicochemical alterations to DbpA showed that the ability to bind to the ligand decorin is indicative of a potent immunogen but is not conclusive. By mutating the two carboxy-terminal nonconserved cysteines of DbpA from B. burgdorferi strain N40, we have determined that the stability afforded by the putative disulfide bond is essential for the generation of protective antibodies. This mutated protein was more sensitive to thermal denaturation and proteolysis, suggesting that it is in a less ordered state. Immunization with DbpA that was thermally denatured and functionally inactivated stimulated an immune response that was not protective and lacked bactericidal antibodies. Antibodies against conformationally altered forms of DbpA also failed to kill heterologous B. garinii and B. afzelii strains. Additionally, nonsecreted recombinant forms of DbpA(N40) were found to be inferior to secreted lipoprotein DbpA(N40) in terms of functional activity and antigenic potency. These data suggest that elicitation of a bactericidal and protective immune response to DbpA requires a properly folded conformation for the production of functional antibodies.

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