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Infect Immun. 2012 Jul;80(7):2426-35. doi: 10.1128/IAI.00181-12. Epub 2012 Apr 23.

The A subunit of Escherichia coli heat-labile enterotoxin functions as a mucosal adjuvant and promotes IgG2a, IgA, and Th17 responses to vaccine antigens.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.


Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC) produces both heat-labile (LT) and heat-stable (ST) enterotoxins and is a major cause of diarrhea in infants in developing countries and in travelers to those regions. In addition to inducing fluid secretion, LT is a powerful mucosal adjuvant capable of promoting immune responses to coadministered antigens. In this study, we examined purified A subunit to further understand the toxicity and adjuvanticity of LT. Purified A subunit was enzymatically active but sensitive to proteolytic degradation and unable to bind gangliosides, and even in the presence of admixed B subunit, it displayed low cyclic AMP (cAMP) induction and no enterotoxicity. Thus, the AB5 structure plays a key role in protecting the A subunit from proteolytic degradation and in delivering the enzymatic signals required for secretion. In contrast, the A subunit alone was capable of activating dendritic cells and enhanced immune responses to multiple antigens following intranasal immunization; therefore, unlike toxicity, LT adjuvanticity is not dependent on the AB5 holotoxin structure or the presence of the B subunit. However, immune responses were maximal when signals were received from both subunits either in an AB5 structure or with A and B admixed. Furthermore, the quality of the immune response (i.e., IgG1/IgG2 balance and mucosal IgA and IL-17 secretion) was determined by the presence of an A subunit, revealing for the first time induction of Th17 responses with the A subunit alone. These results have important implications for understanding ETEC pathogenesis, unraveling immunologic responses induced by LT-based adjuvants, and developing new mucosal vaccines.

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