Product(s) used in this publication: PepMix™ Peptide Pools
Infections with Streptococcus pneumoniae cause substantial morbidity and mortality, particularly in children in developing nations. Polysaccharide-conjugate vaccines provide protection against both invasive disease and colonization, but their use in developing countries is limited by restricted serotype coverage and expense of manufacture. Using proteomic screens, we recently identified several antigens that protected mice from pneumococcal colonization in a CD4(+) T cell- and interleukin-17A (IL-17A)-dependent manner. Since several of these proteins are lipidated, we hypothesized that their immunogenicity and impact on colonization are in part due to activation of Toll-like receptor 2 (TLR2), a receptor for lipoproteins. Here we show that lipidated versions of the antigens elicited significantly higher activation of both human embryonic kidney cells engineered to express TLR2 (HEK-TLR2) and wild-type (WT) murine macrophages than nonlipidated mutant antigens. Lipoprotein-stimulated secretion of proinflammatory cytokines was ∼10× to ∼100× lower in murine TLR2-deficient macrophages than in WT macrophages. Subcutaneous immunization of C57BL/6 mice with protein subunit vaccines containing one or two of these lipoproteins or protein fusion constructs bearing N-terminal lipid adducts elicited a robust IL-17A response and a significant reduction in colonization compared with immunization with alum alone. In contrast, immunization of Tlr2(-/-) mice elicited no detectable IL-17A response and no protection against pneumococcal colonization. These experiments suggest that the lipid moieties enhance the immunogenicity and protective efficacy of pneumococcal TH17 antigens through activation of TLR2. Thus, triggering TLR2 with an antigen-specific protein subunit formulation is a possible strategy for the development of a serotype-independent pneumococcal vaccine that would reduce pneumococcal carriage.