BackgroundEngineered vaccine proteins incorporating both antigen and adjuvant components are constructed with the aim of combining functions to induce effective protective immunity. Bacterial flagellin is a strong candidate for an engineered vaccine scaffold as it is known to provide adjuvant activity through its TLR5 and inflammasome activation. Moreover, polymerized flagellin filaments can elicit a more robust immunoglobulin response than monomeric flagellin, and the multimeric antigen form can also promote T cell-independent antibody responses. Here, we aim to produce and test a covalently stabilized polymerized flagellar filament, providing additional immune efficacy through stabilization of its polymeric filament structure, as well as stabilization for long-term storage.
ResultsComputational modeling of monomer packing in flagellin filaments helped identify amino acids with proximity to neighboring flagella protofilaments. Paired cysteine substitutions were made at amino acids predicted to form inter-monomer disulfide cross-links, and these substitutions were capable of forming flagella when transfected into a flagellin-negative strain of Salmonella enterica subspecies Typhimurium. Interestingly, each paired substitution stabilized different helical conformational polymorphisms; the stabilized filaments lost the ability to transition between conformations, reducing bacterial motility. More importantly, the paired substitutions enabled extensive disulfide cross links and intra-filament multimer formation, and in one of the three variants, permitted filament stability in high acidic and temperature conditions where wild-type filaments would normally rapidly depolymerize. In addition, with regard to potential adjuvant activity, all crosslinked flagella filaments were able to induce wild-type levels of epithelial NF-κB in a cell reporter system. Finally, bacterial virulence was unimpaired in epithelial adherence and invasion, and the cysteine substitutions also appeared to increase bacterial resistance to oxidizing and reducing conditions.
ConclusionsWe identified amino acid pairs, with cysteine substitutions, were able to form intermolecular disulfide bonds that stabilized the resulting flagellar filaments in detergent, hydrochloric acid, and high temperatures while retaining its immunostimulatory function. Flagellar filaments with disulfide-stabilized protofilaments introduce new possibilities for the application of flagella as a vaccine adjuvant. Specifically, increased stability and heat tolerance permits long-term storage in a range of temperature environments, as well as delivery under a range of clinical conditions.