Human immune responses to infective stage larval-specific chitinase of filarial parasite, Onchocerca volvulus, Ov-CHI-1.
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Ov-CHI-1 is a chitinase specifically expressed in the infective stage larvae of the human filarial parasite Onchocerca volvulus. Evidence has show that it could be a vaccine candidate, however, there is no data available regarding the immunological status of people naturally exposed to infective stage larvae and thus provoked by this antigen.
We analysed the Ov-CHI-1-specific immune response present in four endemic foci of human onchocerciasis (Ecuador, Nigeria, Togo and Cameroon) by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays and T-cell proliferation assays.
In these foci of infection, antibodies to Ov-CHI-1 were found to be present in only 22% of individuals from Ecuador, but were detected in 42–62% of infected individuals in the three foci from West Africa (Nigeria, Togo and Cameroon). There was found to be no relationship between antibody level and age, gender, or infection intensity as indicated by microfilarial density and numbers of skin nodules. The isotype response to Ov-CHI-1 was dominated by the presence of IgG3, IgG1 was present to a lesser extent. Our results show a positive correlation between N- and C-termini of Ov-CHI-1 in their ability to provoke humoral and cellular immune responses in the human. Peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) proliferative responses to Ov-CHI-1 when assayed, were found to be significantly higher in the individuals from endemic areas and there was a statistically elevated response to Ov-CHI-1 in the infected individuals when compared to putative immune individuals.
Ov-CHI-1 is an antigen that we have found strongly induces both humoral and cellular immune responses in humans.
KeywordsChitinase Onchocerciasis Filarial Parasite Endemic Focus Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cell Proliferation
Onchocerciasis is caused by infection with the parasitic filarial nematode, Onchocerca volvulus. Typical pathology of onchocerciasis are the symptoms of dermal atrophy and blindness. The parasitic disease is present in 36 countries of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the Americas. 18 million people are infected and a further 120 million people worldwide are at risk of infection . Pathogenesis of filarial disease is thought to be caused mainly by host inflammatory and immune responses to the parasite and to microfilarial and adult worm antigens [2, 3, 4]. Although a recent study has related pathology present in the eye with the presence of endosymbiotic Wolbachia bacteria contained within the onchocerca worm . It is likely that both the nematode and Wolbachia antigens are involved in the disease pathogenesis.
Strategies to eliminate onchocerciasis have, in the past, been based on vector control and / or mass treatment with the microfilaricidal drug ivermectin . A more efficient control method has been suggested which would use drug treatment combined with a prophylactic vaccine. Therefore, it is important to characterise antigens playing critical roles in parasitic development and transmission processes. Advances made by the filarial genome project may be useful to this end. Protective immunity generated against filarial parasites have been linked, in one study, with the developmental stages of late L3 and L4 . Irradiated L3 larvae have been found to induce protective immunity in rodent models of filarial disease [8, 9, 10, 11], and several recombinant L3 antigens have been proposed as potential vaccine candidates [12, 13]. The post-infective stage and L3 to L4 moult are significant developmental stages and the molecules expressed at this time may be of special interest.
We have cloned and characterised a chitinase gene from infective stage larvae of O. volvulus, Ov-CHI-1 [14, 15]. Ov-CHI-1 is a chitinase with several distinct features, namely, stage-specificity, (only expressed within infective stage larvae); organ specificity, (localised within the inclusion bodies of the glandular oesophagus); being secreted during late L3/L4 transition; and exhibiting high immunogenicity in experimental immunisation [14, 15, 16]. Recent studies have highlighted the importance of this secreted, stage-specific chitinase in experimental vaccinations to filarial parasites. For example, Canlas et al., have shown that the monoclonal antibody to Brugia malayi chitinase, MF1, can cause the clearance of circulating B. malayi microfilaria (mf) in passive transfer experiments . Immunization of Mongolian jirds with live attenuated Samonella typhimurium expressing active A. viteae chitinase resulted in a reduction in adult worm burden of 51.4% [Lucis R, personal communication, 1999]. DNA vaccination with Ov-CHI-1 in our laboratory also resulted in a 53% reduction in parasite survival in a mouse chamber model of onchocercasis . Immunization of jirds with recombinant B. malayi chitinase also induced partial protection against microfilaremia although it did not reduce adult worm burden . There is no data available however, on the immunological status of people naturally exposed to, and provoked by, this antigen. Thus, we have studied Ov-CHI-1-specific immune responses in several endemic foci of human onchocerciasis. We believe that data generated will increase knowledge of this molecule and will aid further evaluation of the role of Ov-CHI-1 in the pathogenesis of onchocerciasis.
Materials and Methods
Adult worms and microfilariae of O. volvulus were recovered from nodules excised, after full informed consent and ethical review, from patients attending a clinic at the Medical Research Laboratories (MRL) in Kumba, Cameroon (as part of a clinical management programme). Microfilariae were purified on discontinuous Percoll gradients. Blackflies (Simulium damnosum s.l.) infected with O. volvulus L3 larvae were obtained from the MRL, Kumba, Cameroon. Cryopreserved infective larvae were supplied by Dr Lustigman (New York Blood Centre, New York, USA) on behalf of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation Onchocerciasis Resources Project (New York, USA).
Expression of recombinant chitinase antigens
The details of expression and characterisation of recombinant Ov-CHI-1 have been described previously . Briefly, all recombinant antigens used in this study were expressed in BL21 E. coli using the expression vector pJC40 . The full-length protein consists of 497 amino acids; the 5' protein encoded by the first 1107 bp cDNA and the 3' protein consists of 138 amino acids which was encoded by the 3' 528 bp cDNA. A His-tag sequence was fused at the NH2 terminus to allow the recombinant antigens to be purified by affinity chromatography on a Nickel column (Probond Resin, Invitrogen, Paisley, UK).
Sera were obtained from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (EMCF) onchocerciasis serum bank, maintained at the Swiss Tropical Institute, Basel, Switzerland. Samples from the EMCF serum bank originated from endemic regions within Cameroon (n = 182), Togo (n = 67), Nigeria (n = 39) and Ecuador (n = 55). In each of these locations, sera were derived from individuals showing parasitological signs of current infection (classified as 'infected' [INF]), or from individuals that had neither palpable nodules nor positive skin snips (classified as 'putatively immune' [PI]). EMCF criteria for defining putative immunity include a minimum of 20 years residency in the endemic area and with no history of recent treatment (past 3 years). Sera from unexposed individuals were obtained from volunteers from the United Kingdom. For IgG subclass measurement, 77 samples were selected based on total IgG optical densities (ODs) over 0.44 OD, including 21 from Ecuador (PI 13, INF 8), 37 from Cameroon (PI 18, INF 19) and 19 infected sera from Hohoe, Ghana (all INF).
Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA)
Human sera were obtained as described above, and analysed by ELISA for IgG antibodies against O. volvulus L3 chitinase antigens. Briefly, Maxisorp plates (Nalge Nunc International, USA) were coated overnight with purified Ov-CHI-1 at a concentration of 1 μg/ml in 0.05 M carbonate buffer (pH 9.6). Wells were blocked by overnight incubation with 20% (v/v) soya milk in TST (Tris-Sodium chloride-Tween buffer). Sera were diluted 1:200 in 20% soya / TST and applied to duplicate plates for 2 hours at room temperature. The wells were washed in TST, and goat anti-human IgG (H+L) horseradish peroxidase conjugate (Nordic Immunological Laboratories, Tilburg, The Netherlands) was added at 1:3000 dilution in 20% soya / TST for 1 hour at room temperature. Plates were washed and the assay was developed using 0.02% 2,2'-azinobis-(3-ethylbenzthiazoline-6-sulphonic acid) (ABTS) (Sigma, Dorset, UK). The absorbance at wavelength 405 nm was read on a Dynastic MR 5000 plate reader.
IgG subclass ELISA
Isotype-specific antibodies were measured by using an Ov-CHI-1 ELISA, employing isotype-specific conjugates. Briefly, Maxisorp plates were coated overnight with purified Ov-CHI-1 at a concentration of 1 μg/ml in 0.05 M carbonate buffer (pH 9.6). Wells were blocked by overnight incubation with 20% (v/v) soya milk in TST. Sera were diluted 1:200 in 20% soya / TST and applied to duplicate plates for 2 hours at room temperature. The plates then were probed with monoclonal antibodies to human IgG1 (1:200), IgG2 (1:100), IgG3 (1:200) and IgG4 (1:400) (Nordic: Set MAU/IgG1-4, Nordic Immunological Laboratories, Tilburg, The Netherlands) for 2 hours at room temperature, washed and probed again with goat anti-mouse antibody conjugated with horseradish peroxidase (Bio-Rad, Hemel Hempstead, UK) at the dilution 1:1000 for 1 hour at room temperature. Plates were then washed and the assay was developed as described above.
PBMC proliferation assays
T-cell proliferation assays were conducted as described previously,  using freshly isolated peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from PI, O. volvulus-infected (INF), and "endemic controls" (i.e., ethnically identical individuals living in a nearby area where no O. volvulus transmission has occurred) individuals. Briefly, PBMC were isolated by centrifugation on lymphocyte separation medium (Organ on Technical, Durham, NC, USA). The cells were washed and plated onto 96-well flat-bottomed tissue culture plates (Corning, Cambridge, MA, USA) at a concentration of 1 × 106 cells/ml in a volume of 200 μl of RPMI 1640 (Bio Whittaker, Walkersville, MD, USA) supplemented with 10% human AB serum (Bio Whittaker Walkersville, MD, USA), 0.08 mg/ml gentamycin (Life Technology Gibco BRL, Gaithersburg, MD, USA), and 2 mM L-glutamine (Biofluids, Rockville, MD, USA). The PBMC were stimulated with purified recombinant O. voluvus full length chitinase protein and the C-terminal protein at 10 μg/ml. Appropriate positive and negative control cultures were also included. All stimulations were done in triplicate. The plates were incubated at 37°C and 5% CO2 for 5 days, pulsed with 1 μci per well with tritiated thymidine (DuPont, Boston, USA) for 16 h, and then harvested onto filter mats for subsequent scintillation counting. Results were expressed as a geometric mean of stimulation indexes.
Non-parametric statistical analysis was performed using a Mann Whitney U test, for a groups comparison, Spearman Rank analysis was used for testing for correlations.
Results and discussions
Serological responses in human onchocerciasis
Analysis of Ov-CHI-1 antibody levels found in infected (INF) and putatively immune (PI) individuals within the four endemic foci was carried out (Figure 1B). Data from the endemic foci was divided into two groups according to EMCF criteria. Antibody responses to this antigen appear to be remarkably persistent following infection, both INF and PI groups showed high levels although the antibody levels observed in the INF and PI groups were not significantly different from each other. Similar findings have also been reported in the investigation using recombinant Ov-DLC (cytoplasmic dynein light chain) and Ov-NIF-1 (A neutrophil inhibition factor) . All these findings indicated that the acquired concomitant immunity seems to be present in the four endemic areas, which might have contributed to the deduction of the differences between PI and INF groups . Furthermore, some Sowda individuals were included in the defined population who enrolled in our studies, (Sowda individuals have high levels of skin and lymphatic pathology but low or undetectable levels of microfilariae), which may affect the infectivity data if the grouping criteria was based on the numbers of microfilariae. Comparing antibody responses to Ov-CHI-1 with antibody responses to other molecules of O. volvulus [, Y.Wu et al., unpublished data] in the same populations, we found that Ov-CHI-1 is the only antigen, as yet, identified and measured in our laboratory that links elevated marginally antibody levels with putative immunity.
This study reports the immune responses of human onchocerciasis patients to Ov-CHI-1 in endemic areas and has analysed the immunity generated against the larvae of O. volvulus. Although our results revealed that the natural infection of O. volvulus strongly provoked both humoral and cellular immune responses in individuals from endemic foci, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of OV-CHI-1 as a vaccine candidate against Onchocerciasis. Possibly, Ov-L3-CHI could be a molecule present in the developing infective stage larvae and employed as a target of prophylactic treatment.
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