In vivo gene expression profiling of Staphylococcus aureus during infection informs design of stemless leukocidins LukE and -D as detoxified vaccine candidates

Andreas Haag*, Lassi Liljeroos, Paolo Donato, Clarissa Pozzi, Tarcisio Brignoli, Matthew J. Bottomley, Fabio Bagnoli, Isabel Delany*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

Staphylococcus aureus is a clinically important bacterial pathogen that has become resistant to treatment with most routinely used antibiotics. Alternative strategies, such as vaccination and phage therapy, are therefore actively being investigated to prevent or combat staphylococcal infections. Vaccination requires that vaccine targets are expressed at sufficient quantities during infection so that they can be targeted by the host’s immune system. While our knowledge of in vitro expression levels of putative vaccine candidates is comprehensive, crucial in vivo expression data are scarce and promising vaccine candidates during in vitro assessment often prove ineffective in preventing S. aureus infection. Here, we show how a newly developed high-throughput quantitative reverse transcription-PCR (qRT-PCR) assay monitoring the expression of 84 staphylococcal genes encoding mostly virulence factors can inform the selection and design of effective vaccine candidates against staphylococcal infections. We show that this assay can accurately quantify mRNA expression levels of these genes in several host organs relying only on very limited amounts of bacterial mRNA in each sample. We selected two highly expressed genes, lukE and lukD, encoding pore-forming leukotoxins, to inform the design of detoxified recombinant proteins and showed that immunization with recombinant genetically detoxified LukED antigens conferred protection against staphylococcal skin infection in mice. Consequently, knowledge of in vivo-expressed virulence determinants can be successfully deployed to identify and select promising candidates for optimized design of effective vaccine antigens against S. aureus. Notably, this approach should be broadly applicable to numerous other pathogens.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02574-22
Number of pages19
JournalMicrobiology Spectrum
Volume11
Issue number1
Early online date23 Jan 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2023

Keywords

  • In vivo gene expression
  • High-throughput qRT-PCR
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Staphylococcus aureus vaccine
  • Leukocidins

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