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Current vaccine strategies and novel approaches to combatting Francisella infection

Tularemia is caused by subspecies of Francisella tularensis and can manifest in a variety of disease states, with the pneumonic presentation resulting in the greatest mortality. Despite decades of research, there are no approved vaccines against F. tularensis in the United States. Traditional vaccination strategies, such as live-attenuated or subunit vaccines, are not favorable due to inadequate protection or safety concerns. Because of this, novel vaccination strategies are needed to combat tularemia. Here we discuss the current state of and challenges to the tularemia vaccine field and suggest novel vaccine approaches going forward that might be better suited for protecting against F. tularensis infection.

Non-mucosal vaccination strategies to enhance mucosal immunity

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has highlighted the need for improved vaccines that can elicit long-lasting mucosal immunity. Although mucosal delivery of vaccines represents a plausible method to enhance mucosal immunity, recent studies utilizing intradermal vaccine delivery or incorporation of unique adjuvants suggest that mucosal immunity may be achieved by vaccination via non-mucosal routes. In this expert insight, we highlight emerging evidence from pre-clinical studies that warrant further mechanistic investigation to improve next-generation vaccines against mucosal pathogens, especially those with pandemic potential.

Establishment of isotype-switched, antigen-specific B cells in multiple mucosal tissues using non-mucosal immunization

Although most pathogens infect the human body via mucosal surfaces, very few injectable vaccines can specifically target immune cells to these tissues where their effector functions would be most desirable. We have previously shown that certain adjuvants can program vaccine-specific helper T cells to migrate to the gut, even when the vaccine is delivered non-mucosally. It is not known whether this is true for antigen-specific B cell responses. Here we show that a single intradermal vaccination with the adjuvant double mutant heat-labile toxin (dmLT) induces a robust endogenous, vaccine-specific, isotype-switched B cell response. When the vaccine was intradermally boosted, we detected non-circulating vaccine-specific B cell responses in the lamina propria of the large intestines, Peyer's patches, and lungs. When compared to the TLR9 ligand adjuvant CpG, only dmLT was able to drive the establishment of isotype-switched resident B cells in these mucosal tissues, even when the dmLT-adjuvanted vaccine was administered non-mucosally. Further, we found that the transcription factor Batf3 was important for the full germinal center reaction, isotype switching, and Peyer's patch migration of these B cells. Collectively, these data indicate that specific adjuvants can promote mucosal homing and the establishment of activated, antigen-specific B cells in mucosal tissues, even when these adjuvants are delivered by a non-mucosal route. These findings could fundamentally change the way future vaccines are formulated and delivered.

The Adjuvant Combination of dmLT and Monophosphoryl Lipid A Activates the Canonical, Nonpyroptotic NLRP3 Inflammasome in Dendritic Cells and Significantly Interacts to Expand Antigen-Specific CD4 T Cells

Adjuvants are often essential additions to vaccines that enhance the activation of innate immune cells, leading to more potent and protective T and B cell responses. Only a few vaccine adjuvants are currently used in approved vaccine formulations in the United States. Combinations of one or more adjuvants have the potential to increase the efficacy of existing and next-generation vaccines. In this study, we investigated how the nontoxic double mutant Escherichia coli heat-labile toxin R192G/L211A (dmLT), when combined with the TLR4 agonist monophosphoryl lipid A (MPL-A), impacted innate and adaptive immune responses to vaccination in mice. We found that the combination of dmLT and MPL-A induced an expansion of Ag-specific, multifaceted Th1/2/17 CD4 T cells higher than that explained by adding responses to either adjuvant alone. Furthermore, we observed more robust activation of primary mouse bone marrow-derived dendritic cells in the combination adjuvant-treated group via engagement of the canonical NOD-like receptor family pyrin domain containing 3 (NLRP3) inflammasome complex. This was marked by a multiplicative increase in the secretion of active IL-1β that was independent of classical gasdermin D-mediated pyroptosis. Moreover, the combination adjuvant increased the production of the secondary messengers cAMP and PGE2 in dendritic cells. These results demonstrate how certain adjuvant combinations could be used to potentiate better vaccine responses to combat a variety of pathogens.

An Outer Membrane Vesicle-Adjuvanted Oral Vaccine Protects Against Lethal, Oral Salmonella Infection

Non-typhoidal salmonellosis, caused by Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium is a common fecal-oral disease characterized by mild gastrointestinal distress resulting in diarrhea, chills, fever, abdominal cramps, head and body aches, nausea, and vomiting. Increasing incidences of antibiotic resistant invasive non-typhoidal Salmonella infections makes this a global threat requiring novel treatment strategies including next-generation vaccines. The goal of the current study was to formulate a novel vaccine platform against Salmonella infection that could be delivered orally. To accomplish this, we created a Salmonella-specific vaccine adjuvanted with Burkholderia pseudomallei outer membrane vesicles (OMVs). We show that adding OMVs to a heat-killed oral Salmonella vaccine (HKST + OMVs) protects against a lethal, oral challenge with Salmonella. Further, we show that opsonizing anti-Salmonella antibodies are induced in response to immunization and that CD4 T cells and B cells can be induced when OMVs are used as the oral adjuvant. This study represents a novel oral vaccine approach to combatting the increasing problem of invasive Salmonella infections.

IgE-activated mast cells enhance TLR4-mediated antigen-specific CD4+ T cell responses

Mast cells are potent mediators of allergy and asthma, yet their role in regulating adaptive immunity remains ambiguous. On the surface of mast cells, the crosslinking of IgE bound to FcεRI by a specific antigen recognized by that IgE triggers the release of immune mediators such as histamine and cytokines capable of activating other immune cells; however, little is known about the mast cell contribution to the induction of endogenous, antigen-specific CD4+ T cells. Here we examined the effects of specific mast cell activation in vivo on the initiation of an antigen-specific CD4+ T cell response. While CD4+ T cells were not enhanced by FcεRI stimulation alone, their activation was synergistically enhanced when FcεRI activation was combined with TLR4 stimulation. This enhanced activation was dependent on global TLR4 stimulation but appeared to be less dependent on mast cell expressed TLR4. This study provides important new evidence to support the role of mast cells as mediators of the antigen-specific adaptive immune response.

Salmonella Biofilm Formation, Chronic Infection, and Immunity Within the Intestine and Hepatobiliary Tract

Within the species of Salmonella enterica, there is significant diversity represented among the numerous subspecies and serovars. Collectively, these account for microbes with variable host ranges, from common plant and animal colonizers to extremely pathogenic and human-specific serovars. Despite these differences, many Salmonella species find commonality in the ability to form biofilms and the ability to cause acute, latent, or chronic disease. The exact outcome of infection depends on many factors such as the growth state of Salmonella, the environmental conditions encountered at the time of infection, as well as the infected host and immune response elicited. Here, we review the numerous biofilm lifestyles of Salmonella (on biotic and abiotic surfaces) and how the production of extracellular polymeric substances not only enhances long-term persistence outside the host but also is an essential function in chronic human infections. Furthermore, careful consideration is made for the events during initial infection that allow for gut transcytosis which, in conjunction with host immune functions, often determine the progression of disease. Both typhoidal and non-typhoidal salmonellae can cause chronic and/or secondary infections, thus the adaptive immune responses to both types of bacteria are discussed with particular attention to the differences between Salmonella Typhi, Salmonella Typhimurium, and invasive non-typhoidal Salmonella that can result in differential immune responses. Finally, while strides have been made in our understanding of immunity to Salmonella in the lymphoid organs, fewer definitive studies exist for intestinal and hepatobiliary immunity. By examining our current knowledge and what remains to be determined, we provide insight into new directions in the field of Salmonella immunity, particularly as it relates to chronic infection.

Control of Persistent Salmonella Infection Relies on Constant Thymic Output Despite Increased Peripheral Antigen-Specific T Cell Immunity

Recent thymic emigrants are the youngest subset of peripheral T cells and their involvement in combating persistent bacterial infections has not been explored. Here, we hypothesized that CD4+recent thymic emigrants are essential immune mediators during persistent Salmonella infection. To test this, we thymectomized adult mice either prior to, or during, persistent Salmonella infection. We found that thymic output is crucial in the formation of protective immune responses during the early formation of a Salmonella infection but is dispensable once persistent Salmonella infection is established. Further, we show that thymectomized mice demonstrate increased infection-associated mortality and bacterial burdens. Unexpectedly, numbers of Salmonella-specific CD4+ T cells were significantly increased in thymectomized mice compared to sham control mice. Lastly, we found that T cells from thymectomized mice may be impaired in producing the effector cytokine IL-17 at early time points of infection, compared to thymically intact mice. Together, these results imply a unique role for thymic output in the formation of immune responses against a persistent, enteric pathogen.

Salmonella Persistence and Host Immunity Are Dictated by the Anatomical Microenvironment

The intracellular bacterial pathogen Salmonella is able to evade the immune system and persist within the host. In some cases, these persistent infections are asymptomatic for long periods and represent a significant public health hazard because the hosts are potential chronic carriers, yet the mechanisms that control persistence are incompletely understood. Using a mouse model of chronic typhoid fever combined with major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II tetramers to interrogate endogenous, Salmonella-specific CD4+ helper T cells, we show that certain host microenvironments may favorably contribute to a pathogen's ability to persist in vivo We demonstrate that the environment in the hepatobiliary system may contribute to the persistence of Salmonella enterica subsp. enterica serovar Typhimurium through liver-resident immunoregulatory CD4+ helper T cells, alternatively activated macrophages, and impaired bactericidal activity. This contrasts with lymphoid organs, such as the spleen and mesenteric lymph nodes, where these same cells appear to have a greater capacity for bacterial killing, which may contribute to control of bacteria in these organs. We also found that, following an extended period of infection of more than 2 years, the liver appeared to be the only site that harbored Salmonella bacteria. This work establishes a potential role for nonlymphoid organ immunity in regulating chronic bacterial infections and provides further evidence for the hepatobiliary system as the site of chronic Salmonella infection.

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