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Front Immunol. 2019 Feb 15;10:207. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2019.00207. eCollection 2019.

Promiscuous Coxiella burnetii CD4 Epitope Clusters Associated With Human Recall Responses Are Candidates for a Novel T-Cell Targeted Multi-Epitope Q Fever Vaccine.

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InnatOss Laboratories B.V., Oss, Netherlands.
EpiVax, Inc., Providence, RI, United States.
Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, Institute for Immunology and Informatics, University of Rhode Island, Providence, RI, United States.
Department of Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, United States.
Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, United States.
Department of Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, United States.


Coxiella burnetii, the causative agent of Q fever, is a Gram-negative intracellular bacterium transmitted via aerosol. Regulatory approval of the Australian whole-cell vaccine Q-VAX® in the US and Europe is hindered by reactogenicity in previously exposed individuals. The aim of this study was to identify and rationally select C. burnetii epitopes for design of a safe, effective, and less reactogenic T-cell targeted human Q fever vaccine. Immunoinformatic methods were used to predict 65 HLA class I epitopes and 50 promiscuous HLA class II C. burnetii epitope clusters, which are conserved across strains of C. burnetii. HLA binding assays confirmed 89% of class I and 75% of class II predictions, and 11 HLA class II epitopes elicited IFNγ responses following heterologous DNA/DNA/peptide/peptide prime-boost immunizations of HLA-DR3 transgenic mice. Human immune responses to the predicted epitopes were characterized in individuals naturally exposed to C. burnetii during the 2007-2010 Dutch Q fever outbreak. Subjects were divided into three groups: controls with no immunological evidence of previous infection and individuals with responses to heat-killed C. burnetii in a whole blood IFNγ release assay (IGRA) who remained asymptomatic or who experienced clinical Q fever during the outbreak. Recall responses to C. burnetii epitopes were assessed by cultured IFNγ ELISpot. While HLA class I epitope responses were sparse in this cohort, we identified 21 HLA class II epitopes that recalled T-cell IFNγ responses in 10-28% of IGRA+ subjects. IGRA+ individuals with past asymptomatic and symptomatic C. burnetii infection showed a comparable response pattern and cumulative peptide response which correlated with IGRA responses. None of the peptides elicited reactogenicity in a C. burnetii exposure-primed guinea pig model. These data demonstrate that a substantial proportion of immunoinformatically identified HLA class II epitopes show long-lived immunoreactivity in naturally infected individuals, making them desirable candidates for a novel human multi-epitope Q fever vaccine.


Coxiella burnetii; IFNγ; Q fever; T cell; immunoinformatics; multi-epitope vaccine

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