Evaluation of Truncated NhhA Protein as a Candidate Meningococcal Vaccine Antigen
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NhhA (Neisseria hia homologue) is an outer membrane protein from Neisseria meningitidis, the causative agent of meningococcal disease. The protein is surface exposed and its expression in a wide range of meningococcal strains suggests it is a promising vaccine candidate. In addition, immunization of mice with outer membrane vesicles of strains that overexpress NhhA in conjunction with one of TbpA, Omp85 or NspA results in synergistic bactericidal responses. We previously showed that the NhhA sequence is highly conserved between strains, with the majority of the differences localized to four distinct variable regions located in the amino-terminal region of the mature protein. In this study, N. meningitidis strains were constructed that over-express wild-type NhhA. Strains expressing truncated versions of NhhA, with deletions from the amino-terminal region that removed the most variable regions, were also made. These expression strains were also modified so that immunodominant, phase- and antigenically-variable outer membrane proteins were not expressed, truncated lipooligosaccharide (LOS) expression was genetically fixed (no phase variability), and capsular polysaccharide expression abolished. Outer membrane vesicles derived from these strains were used to immunize mice. As previously observed, a synergistic effect involving another antigen, TbpA, was required to demonstrate bactericidal activity. The highest bactericidal response against a heterologous strain was obtained with a truncated variant of NhhA. These results indicate that removal of (a) variable region(s) does not reduce bactericidal responses against NhhA, and that bactericidal targets exist in regions other than the variable N-teminus. This provides the basis for future examination of responses against truncated NhhA in protecting against heterologous NhhA strains, and further evaluation of truncated NhhA as a candidate for inclusion in a vaccine against all serogroups of N. meningitidis.
© 2013 Peak et al. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License CCAL. (http://www.plos.org/journals/license.html)
Proteins and Peptides