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PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2011 Dec;5(12):e1428. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0001428. Epub 2011 Dec 6.

Directed evaluation of enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli autotransporter proteins as putative vaccine candidates.

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University of Tennessee College of Medicine, Memphis, Tennessee, USA.



Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC) is a major diarrheal pathogen in developing countries, where it accounts for millions of infections and hundreds of thousands of deaths annually. While vaccine development to prevent diarrheal illness due to ETEC is feasible, extensive effort is needed to identify conserved antigenic targets. Pathogenic Escherichia coli, including ETEC, use the autotransporter (AT) secretion mechanism to export virulence factors. AT proteins are comprised of a highly conserved carboxy terminal outer membrane beta barrel and a surface-exposed amino terminal passenger domain. Recent immunoproteomic studies suggesting that multiple autotransporter passenger domains are recognized during ETEC infection prompted the present studies.


Available ETEC genomes were examined to identify AT coding sequences present in pathogenic isolates, but not in the commensal E. coli HS strain. Passenger domains of the corresponding autotransporters were cloned and expressed as recombinant antigens, and the immune response to these proteins was then examined using convalescent sera from patients and experimentally infected mice.


Potential AT genes shared by ETEC strains, but absent in the E. coli commensal HS strain were identified. Recombinant passenger domains derived from autotransporters, including Ag43 and an AT designated pAT, were recognized by antibodies from mice following intestinal challenge with H10407, and both Ag43 and pAT were identified on the surface of ETEC by flow cytometry. Likewise, convalescent sera from patients with ETEC diarrhea recognized Ag43 and pAT, suggesting that these proteins are expressed during both experimental and naturally occurring ETEC infections and that they are immunogenic. Vaccination of mice with recombinant passenger domains from either pAT or Ag43 afforded protection against intestinal colonization with ETEC.


Passenger domains of conserved autotransporter proteins could contribute to protective immune responses that develop following infection with ETEC, and these antigens consequently represent potential targets to explore in vaccine development.

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