Buruli ulcer, an emerging tropical disease caused by Mycobacterium ulcerans (MU), is characterized by disfiguring skin necrosis and high morbidity. Relatively little is understood about the mode of transmission, pathogenesis, or host immune responses to MU infection. Due to significant reduction in quality of life for patients with extensive tissue scarring, and that a disproportionately high percentage of those affected are disadvantaged children, a Buruli ulcer vaccine would be greatly beneficial to the worldwide community. Previous studies have shown that mice inoculated with either M. bovis bacille Calmette–Guérin (BCG) or a DNA vaccine encoding the M. ulcerans mycolyl transferase, Ag85A (MU-Ag85A), are transiently protected against pathology caused by intradermal challenge with MU. Building upon this principle, we have generated quality-controlled, live-recombinant strains of BCG and M. smegmatis which express the immunodominant MU Ag85A. Priming with rBCG MU-Ag85A followed by an M. smegmatis MU-Ag85A boost strongly induced murine antigen-specific CD4+ T cells and elicited functional IFNγ-producing splenocytes which recognized MU-Ag85A peptide and whole M. ulcerans better than a BCG prime-boost vaccination. Strikingly, mice vaccinated with a single subcutaneous dose of BCG MU-Ag85A or prime-boost displayed significantly enhanced survival, reduced tissue pathology, and lower bacterial load compared to mice vaccinated with BCG. Importantly, this level of superior protection against experimental Buruli ulcer compared to BCG has not previously been achieved. These results suggest that use of BCG as a recombinant vehicle expressing MU antigens represents an effective Buruli ulcer vaccine strategy and warrants further antigen discovery to improve vaccine efficacy.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
- Infectious Diseases