To search for more effective tuberculosis (TB) subunit vaccines, antigens expressed in different growth stages of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M. tuberculosis), such as RpfE (Rv2450c) produced in the stage of resuscitation, Mtb10.4 (Rv0288), Mtb8.4 (Rv1174c), ESAT6 (Rv3875), Ag85B (Rv1886c) mainly secreted by replicating bacilli, and HspX (Rv2031c) highly expressed in dormant bacilli, were selected to construct six fusion proteins: ESAT6-Ag85B-MPT64190-198-Mtb8.4 (EAMM), Mtb10.4-HspX (MH), ESAT6-Mtb8.4, Mtb10.4-Ag85B, ESAT6-Ag85B, and ESAT6-RpfE. The six fusion proteins were separately emulsified in an adjuvant composed of N,N'-dimethyl-N, N'-dioctadecylammonium bromide (DDA), polyribocytidylic acid (poly I:C) and gelatin to construct subunit vaccines, and their protective effects against M. tuberculosis infection were evaluated in C57BL/6 mice. Furthermore, the boosting effects of EAMM and MH in the adjuvant of DDA plus trehalose 6,6'-dimycolate (TDM) on BCG-induced immunity were also evaluated. It was found that the six proteins were stably produced in E. coli and successfully purified by chromatography. Among them, EAMM presented the most effective protection against M. tuberculosis. Interestingly, the mice that received EAMM+MH had significantly lower bacterial counts in the lungs and spleens than the single protein vaccinated groups, and had the same effect as those that received BCG. In addition, EAMM and MH could improve BCG-primed protective efficacy against M. tuberculosis infection in mice. In conclusion, the combination of EAMM and MH containing antigens from both replicating and dormant stages of the bacilli could induce robust immunity against M. tuberculosis infection in mice and may serve as promising subunit vaccine candidate.
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