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PLoS Pathog. 2012;8(5):e1002688. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1002688. Epub 2012 May 10.

The effect of human factor H on immunogenicity of meningococcal native outer membrane vesicle vaccines with over-expressed factor H binding protein.

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Center for Immunobiology and Vaccine Development, Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute, Oakland, California, United States of America.


The binding of human complement inhibitors to vaccine antigens in vivo could diminish their immunogenicity. A meningococcal ligand for the complement down-regulator, factor H (fH), is fH-binding protein (fHbp), which is specific for human fH. Vaccines containing recombinant fHbp or native outer membrane vesicles (NOMV) from mutant strains with over-expressed fHbp are in clinical development. In a previous study in transgenic mice, the presence of human fH impaired the immunogenicity of a recombinant fHbp vaccine. In the present study, we prepared two NOMV vaccines from mutant group B strains with over-expressed wild-type fHbp or an R41S mutant fHbp with no detectable fH binding. In wild-type mice in which mouse fH did not bind to fHbp in either vaccine, the NOMV vaccine with wild-type fHbp elicited 2-fold higher serum IgG anti-fHbp titers (P = 0.001) and 4-fold higher complement-mediated bactericidal titers against a PorA-heterologous strain than the NOMV with the mutant fHbp (P = 0.003). By adsorption, the bactericidal antibodies were shown to be directed at fHbp. In transgenic mice in which human fH bound to the wild-type fHbp but not to the R41S fHbp, the NOMV vaccine with the mutant fHbp elicited 5-fold higher serum IgG anti-fHbp titers (P = 0.002), and 19-fold higher bactericidal titers than the NOMV vaccine with wild-type fHbp (P = 0.001). Thus, in mice that differed only by the presence of human fH, the respective results with the two vaccines were opposite. The enhanced bactericidal activity elicited by the mutant fHbp vaccine in the presence of human fH far outweighed the loss of immunogenicity of the mutant protein in wild-type animals. Engineering fHbp not to bind to its cognate complement inhibitor, therefore, may increase vaccine immunogenicity in humans.

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