Steven B. Mizel, Ph.D., principal investigator, told the American Gastroenterological Association meeting in Chicago that when mice immunized with a new combination vaccine were challenged with a lethal dose of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague, "the immune mice survived but the control mice succumbed in three days."
Mizel and his graduate student, Anna Honko, found that injecting a protein taken from plague bacteria into a mouse one method of vaccination produces little if any response in the mouse immune system. But if a protein termed flagellin is added to the vaccine, antibody levels against the plague bacteria are 500,000 times higher.
"Flagellin can function as an effective adjuvant, making a vaccine that protects against the most dangerous form of the plague pneumonic plague," reported Mizel, professor and chairman of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the School of Medicine, part of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem.
Pneumonic plague occurs when an individual breathes in plague bacteria. Untreated, the victim dies within three to four days. "We have also established that flagellin is an effective adjuvant in monkeys immunized with flagellin and a Yersina pestis antigen," he said. "The immunized monkeys showed no undesired effects from the vaccine. There was no fever or other signs of problems.
"These results clearly establish a strong foundation for the future use of flagellin as an adjuvant in humans," Mizel said.
He said the research shows that the mice were protected for at least three months after immunization.
The work is part of a $9.125 million, five-year research program funded by the National Institutes of Hea
Contact: Robert Conn
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center