Construction and Evaluation of a Novel Recombinant T Cell Epitope-Based Vaccine against Coccidioidomycosis
Clinical and animal studies of coccidioidomycosis have demonstrated that activated CD4+ T lymphocytes are essential for protection against this fungal respiratory disease. We previously reported a vaccine against Coccidioides infection which contained three recombinant CD4+ T cell-reactive proteins and induced a robust, protective immune response in mice. Due to the anticipated high cost of production and clinical assessment of this multivalent vaccine, we generated a single protein which contained immunodominant T cell epitopes of the three polypeptides. Epitopes were initially identified by computational prediction of their ability to bind promiscuously to human major histocompatibility complex class II (MHC II) molecules. Cellular immunoassays confirmed the immunogenicity of the synthesized epitope peptides, while in vitro binding assays revealed a range of peptide affinity for MHC II. A DNA construct was synthesized for bacterial expression of a recombinant protein vaccine which contained five epitopes with the highest affinity for human MHC II, each fused with leader and spacer peptides proposed to optimize epitope processing and presentation to T cell receptors. Recall assays of immune T lymphocytes obtained from human MHC II-expressing HLA-DR4 transgenic mice confirmed that 4 of the 5 epitope peptides were processed. Mice immunized with the epitope-based vaccine admixed with a synthetic oligodeoxynucleotide adjuvant or loaded into yeast glucan particles and then challenged intranasally with Coccidioides showed early lung infiltration of activated T helper-1 (Th1), Th2, and Th17 cells, elevated gamma interferon (IFN-γ) and interleukin (IL)-17 production, significant reduction of fungal burden, and prolongation of survival compared to nonvaccinated mice. This is the first report of an epitope-based vaccine against coccidioidomycosis.