The heparin-binding hemagglutinin (HBHA) of Mycobacterium tuberculosis is a surface-expressed adhesin that can affect binding to host cells via a unique, methylated, carboxyl-terminal, lysine-, alanine-, and proline-rich repeat region. It has been implicated in extrapulmonary dissemination of M. tuberculosis from the lung following the initial infection of the host. To assess the vaccine potential of this protein, purified preparations of HBHA were emulsified in a dimethyldioctadecylammonium bromide-monophosphoryl lipid A adjuvant and tested for the ability to reduce M. tuberculosis infection in the mouse aerosol challenge model for tuberculosis. The HBHA-containing vaccine gave a ∼0.7-log reduction in CFU in both mouse lungs and spleens compared to adjuvant controls 28 days following challenge. Although a notable level of serum antibody to HBHA was elicited after three immunizations and the antibodies were able to bind to the surface of M. tuberculosis, passive immunization with monoclonal antibodies directed against HBHA did not protect in the challenge model. Compared to adjuvant controls, an elevated gamma interferon response was generated by splenic and lymph node-derived T cells from immunized mice in the presence of macrophages pulsed with purified HBHA or infected with live M. tuberculosis, suggesting that the effective immunity may be cell mediated. Efforts to construct effective recombinant HBHA vaccines in fast-growing Mycobacterium smegmatis have been unsuccessful so far, which indicates that distinctive posttranslational modifications present in the HBHA protein expressed by M. tuberculosis are critical for generating effective host immune responses. The vaccine studies described here demonstrate that HBHA is a promising new vaccine candidate for tuberculosis.
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