Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A fresh approach towards a Lyme disease vaccine: targeting the tick

We tend to focus on the pathogen when thinking about how the immune system responds to tick-borne infections.  Ticks also provoke an immune response, even those that don't harbor any infectious agent.  Animals that are repeatedly bitten by ticks will eventually develop immunity to the tick.  There's even a commercial tick vaccine called TickGARD, which protects cattle against infestation by the tick Boophilus microplus.  TickGARD is formulated with a protein located in the midgut of B. microplus.

Animals that are immune to ticks also resist infection by some tick-borne pathogens, including Borrelia burgdorferi (Nazario et al., 1998).  Vaccines designed from a single tick component may also protect host animals from infectious agents.  A tick vaccine formulated with the tick cement protein 64TRP protected mice from being killed by the tick-borne encephalitis virus introduced by its vector, Ixodes ricinus (Labuda et al., 2006).

These earlier studies prompted Erol Fikrig's group at Yale to devise a vaccine that targets an Ixodes tick protein required by B. burgdorferi for a successful infection.  They focused on Salp15, a protein found in tick saliva.  Salp15 binds to the B. burgdorferi surface protein OspC as the spirochete passes through the salivary gland on its way into the skin of the victim.  Salp15 is one of the many bioactive salivary proteins that dampen the immune system to allow the tick to remain attached for several days so that it could complete its blood meal.  B. burgdorferi exploits Salp15 to fend off the immune response in the early stages of infection.  Since Salp15 coats B. burgdorferi, a vaccine targeting Salp15 could make B. burgdorferi vulnerable to killing by the immune system.  Indeed, Salp15 antiserum was able to enhance phagocytosis of Salp15-coated B. burgdorferi by mouse macrophages in vitro.

Despite the promising in vitro results, Salp15 as a vaccine was only partially protective in animal studies.  55-60% of mice actively immunized with Salp15 or passively immunized with Salp15 antiserum ended up infected with B. burgdorferi following challenge with infected Ixodes scapularis ticks.  Moreover, ticks were able to feed normally on mice immunized with Salp15, indicating that the animals did not acquire tick immunity.

Where Salp15 shined was in improving the efficacy of another Lyme vaccine.  The OspA vaccine requires several doses to achieve maximum protection against B. burgdorferi.  When Salp15 was combined with OspA, a single dose of the mixture spared 70% of mice from infection, whereas only 10-20% of mice immunized with a single dose of OspA or OspA plus Salp25D (an irrelevant tick salivary protein) were protected.  Thus future Lyme disease vaccines that target a component of the spirochete could also include Salp15 to enhance their protective capacity.

Scientists are undoubtedly examining other tick proteins as potential vaccines against ticks and the pathogens they transmit.

Featured paper

Dai, J., Wang, P., Adusumilli, S., Booth, C.J., Narasimhan, S., Anguita, J., and Fikrig, E. (November 19, 2009).  Antibodies against a tick protein, Salp15, protect mice from the Lyme disease agent.  Cell Host & Microbe 6:482-492.  DOI: 10.1016/j.chom.2009.10.006

Other references

Labuda, M., Trimnell, A.R., Licková, M., Kazimírová, M.,Davies, G.M., Lissina, O., Hails, R.S., and Nuttall, P.A. (April 2006).  An antivector vaccine protects against a lethal vector-borne pathogen.  PLoS Pathogens 2(4):e27.  DOI: 10.1371/journal.ppat.0020027

Nazario, S., Das, S., De Silva, A.M., Deponte, K., Marcantonio, N., Anderson, J.F., Fish, D., Fikrig, E., and Kantor, F.S. (June 1998).  Prevention of Borrelia burgdorferi transmission in guinea pigs by tick immunity.  American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 58(6):780-785.  Link

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tigecycline fails to eradicate persisting Borrelia burgdorferi

Antibiotics are usually successful in treating Lyme disease, especially if administered early.  The problem is that some patients continue to experience symptoms even after completing the recommended treatment regimen.  Although the current IDSA guidelines assert that the lingering symptoms are not due to persisting Borrelia burgdorferi,  the mouse model of Lyme disease clearly demonstrates the survival of live (albeit disabled) spirochetes following treatment with ceftriaxone, one of the antibiotics used to treat disseminated Lyme disease. As I wrote in an earlier post, the key question that must be answered is whether the lingering spirochetes are responsible for the persisting symptoms.  If so, a more potent antibiotic that could eliminate all of the spirochetes (or enough of them to allow the immune system to quickly mop up the rest) would be desired.

The newer antibiotic tigecycline was recently approved for treating skin and intra-abdominal infections caused by complex mixtures of bacteria.  Tigecycline is a tetracycline antibiotic, which blocks translation of mRNA into proteins by sticking tightly to the 30S ribosome subunit of bacteria.  In turns out that tigecycline exhibits greater antimicrobial activity than ceftriaxone (and doxycycline, another Lyme antibiotic) against B. burgdorferi, at least in the test tube.

Barthold and colleagues tested tigecycline to see if it could eradicate B. burgdorferi from persistently infected mice.  Groups of mice infected for 4 months with B. burgdorferi were treated with ceftriaxone (10 mice), a low dose of tigecycline (7 mice), or a high dose of tigecycline (9 mice).  A control group was sham treated with saline.  Three months after treatment was completed, the mice were examined to see if the spirochetes were still in the tissues.  As you might expect, B. burgdorferi DNA was detected by PCR at high levels in multiple tissues in all 10 mice that were administered saline, and the spirochetes were successfully cultured from the tissues.  In the ceftriaxone group, as shown in an earlier study by Barthold's lab, low levels of B. burgdorferi DNA were detected in leg joints from all 10 mice.  Although B. burgdorferi could not be cultured from the ceftriaxone-treated mice, ticks that fed on the mice were able to transmit the spirochetes to immunodeficient (SCID) mice, where B. burgdorferi was detected by PCR at the end of the experiment.  Since transmission requires active penetration of B. burgdorferi through several tissue barriers, the spirochetes that remained following antibiotic treatment must have been alive, although they could not be cultured.  Moreover, several B. burgdorferi mRNA transcripts were detected in some of the ceftriaxone-treated mice, another hint that the spirochetes remained viable (mRNA, unlike DNA, is extremely labile and would quickly degrade in dead bacteria).

How well did tigecycline work?  Despite its heightened potency against B. burgdorferi in test tube experiments and its much longer half-life in mice, tigecycline didn't work any better than ceftriaxone in eliminating the spirochetes, even at the higher dose.

The studies performed by Barthold's group raises several questions:
  • Would prolonging antibiotic treatment eventually eliminate the spirochetes?  Curiously, tigecycline was administered to the mice for only 10 days.
  • Do the spirochetes that remain following antibiotic treatment cause disease?  So far, the answer appears to be, "No."  Unlike the saline-treated mice, the antibiotic-treated mice did not exhibit any signs of disease.  Necropsies failed to reveal a inflammatory response against the spirochetes remaining in the tissues.
  • Do the spirochetes that survive antibiotic treatment give rise to disease later?  The earlier study by Barthold's group showed that although viable, the spirochetes were slowly diminishing in number in the tissues of mice that were treated with antibiotics.  If the mice were followed for a longer period of time, would the disabled spirochetes eventually disappear or revive to elicit a relapse of disease?
  • Is the mouse model even relevant to human Lyme disease?  Borrelia burgdorferi has evolved to persist in the mouse, its natural host, and may act differently in humans.  Obviously the experiments presented here can't be performed on humans, but an animal model that is more relevant to human Lyme disease may be more appropriate for addressing the issues raised by Barthold's work.
Featured paper

Barthold, S.W., Hodzic, E., Imai, D.M., Feng, S., Yang, X., and Luft, B.J. (February 2010).  Ineffectiveness of tigecycline against persistent Borrelia burgdorferiAntimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy 54(2):643-651.  DOI: 10.1128/AAC.00788-09

Related paper

Hodzic, E., Feng, S., Holden, K., Freet, K.J., and Barthold, S.W. (May 2008).  Persistence of Borrelia burgdorferi following antibiotic treatment in mice.  Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy 52(5):1728-1736.  DOI: 10.1128/AAC.01050-07