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PLoS One. 2013 Apr 17;8(4):e61539. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0061539. Print 2013.

Identification of a live attenuated vaccine candidate for tularemia prophylaxis.

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Center for Immunology and Microbial Disease, Albany Medical College, Albany, New York, United States of America.


Francisella tularensis is the causative agent of a fatal human disease, tularemia. F. tularensis was used in bioweapon programs in the past and is now classified as a category A select agent owing to its possible use in bioterror attacks. Despite over a century since its discovery, an effective vaccine is yet to be developed. In this study four transposon insertion mutants of F. tularensis live vaccine strain (LVS) in Na/H antiporter (FTL_0304), aromatic amino acid transporter (FTL_0291), outer membrane protein A (OmpA)-like family protein (FTL_0325) and a conserved hypothetical membrane protein gene (FTL_0057) were evaluated for their attenuation and protective efficacy against F. tularensis SchuS4 strain. All four mutants were 100-1000 fold attenuated for virulence in mice than parental F. tularensis. Except for the FTL_0304, single intranasal immunization with the other three mutants provided 100% protection in BALB/c mice against intranasal challenge with virulent F. tularensis SchuS4. Differences in the protective ability of the FTL_0325 and FTL_0304 mutant which failed to provide protection against SchuS4 were investigated further. The results indicated that an early pro-inflammatory response and persistence in host tissues established a protective immunity against F. tularensis SchuS4 in the FTL_0325 immunized mice. No differences were observed in the levels of serum IgG antibodies amongst the two vaccinated groups. Recall response studies demonstrated that splenocytes from the FTL_0325 mutant immunized mice induced significantly higher levels of IFN-γ and IL-17 cytokines than the FTL_0304 immunized counterparts indicating development of an effective memory response. Collectively, this study demonstrates that persistence of the vaccine strain together with its ability to induce an early pro-inflammatory innate immune response and strong memory responses can discriminate between successful and failed vaccinations against tularemia. This study describes a live attenuated vaccine which may prove to be an ideal vaccine candidate for prevention of respiratory tularemia.

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