Site-Specific Incorporation of Three Toll-Like Receptor 2 Targeting Adjuvants into Semisynthetic, Molecularly Defined Nanoparticles: Application to Group A Streptococcal Vaccines
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Subunit vaccines offer a means to produce safer, more defined vaccines compared to traditional whole microorganism approaches. Subunit antigens, however, exhibit weak immunity, which is normally overcome through coadministration with adjuvants. Enhanced vaccine properties (e.g., improved potency) can be obtained by linking antigen and adjuvant, as observed for synthetic peptide antigens and Toll-like receptor 2 (TLR2) ligands. As few protective peptide antigens have been reported, compared to protein antigens, we sought to extend the utility of this approach to recombinant proteins, while ensuring that conjugation reactions yielded a single, molecularly defined product. Herein we describe the development and optimization of techniques that enable the efficient, site-specific attachment of three synthetic TLR2 ligands (lipid core peptide (LCP), Pam2Cys, and Pam3Cys) onto engineered protein antigens, permitting the selection of optimal TLR2 agonists during the vaccine development process. Using this approach, broadly protective (J14) and population targeted (seven M protein N-terminal antigens) multiantigenic vaccines against group A streptococcus (GAS; Streptococcus pyogenes) were produced and observed to self-assemble in PBS to yield nanoparticules (69, 101, and 123 nm, respectively). All nanoparticle formulations exhibited self-adjuvanting properties, with rapid, persistent, antigen-specific IgG antibody responses elicited toward each antigen in subcutaneously immunized C57BL/6J mice. These antibodies were demonstrated to strongly bind to the cell surface of five GAS serotypes that are not represented by vaccine M protein N-terminal antigens, are among the top 20 circulating strains in developed countries, and are associated with clinical disease, suggesting that these vaccines may elicit broadly protective immune responses.
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