Publications by authors named "Alessandro Muzzi"

50 Publications

High coverage of diverse invasive meningococcal serogroup B strains by the 4-component vaccine 4CMenB in Australia, 2007-2011: Concordant predictions between MATS and genetic MATS.

Hum Vaccin Immunother 2021 Apr 13:1-9. Epub 2021 Apr 13.

Queensland Paediatric Infectious Disease Laboratory, Children's Health Queensland Hospitals and Health Service, Queensland Children's Hospital, Brisbane, Australia.

Meningococcal serogroup B (MenB) accounts for an important proportion of invasive meningococcal disease (IMD). The 4-component vaccine against MenB (4CMenB) is composed of factor H binding protein (fHbp), neisserial heparin-binding antigen (NHBA), adhesin A (NadA), and outer membrane vesicles of the New Zealand strain with Porin 1.4. A meningococcal antigen typing system (MATS) and a fully genomic approach, genetic MATS (gMATS), were developed to predict coverage of MenB strains by 4CMenB. We characterized 520 MenB invasive disease isolates collected over a 5-year period (January 2007-December 2011) from all Australian states/territories by multilocus sequence typing and estimated strain coverage by 4CMenB. The clonal complexes most frequently identified were ST-41/44 CC/Lineage 3 (39.4%) and ST-32 CC/ET-5 CC (23.7%). The overall MATS predicted coverage was 74.6% (95% coverage interval: 61.1%-85.6%). The overall gMATS prediction was 81.0% (lower-upper limit: 75.0-86.9%), showing 91.5% accuracy compared with MATS. Overall, 23.7% and 13.1% (MATS) and 26.0% and 14.0% (gMATS) of isolates were covered by at least 2 and 3 vaccine antigens, respectively, with fHbp and NHBA contributing the most to coverage. When stratified by year of isolate collection, state/territory and age group, MATS and gMATS strain coverage predictions were consistent across all strata. The high coverage predicted by MATS and gMATS indicates that 4CMenB vaccination may have an impact on the burden of MenB-caused IMD in Australia. gMATS can be used in the future to monitor variations in 4CMenB strain coverage over time and geographical areas even for non-culture confirmed IMD cases.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21645515.2021.1904758DOI Listing
April 2021

Deconvolution of intergenic polymorphisms determining high expression of Factor H binding protein in meningococcus and their association with invasive disease.

PLoS Pathog 2021 Mar 26;17(3):e1009461. Epub 2021 Mar 26.

GSK, Siena, Italy.

Neisseria meningitidis is a strictly human pathogen and is the major cause of septicemia and meningitis worldwide. Factor H binding protein (fHbp) is a meningococcal surface-exposed lipoprotein that binds the human Complement factor H allowing the bacterium to evade the host innate immune response. FHbp is also a key antigen in two vaccines against N. meningitidis serogroup B. Although the fHbp gene is present in most circulating meningococcal strains, level of fHbp expression varies among isolates and has been correlated to differences in promoter sequences upstream of the gene. Here we elucidated the sequence determinants that control fHbp expression in globally circulating strains. We analyzed the upstream fHbp intergenic region (fIR) of more than 5800 strains representative of the UK circulating isolates and we identified eleven fIR sequence alleles which represent 88% of meningococcal strains. By engineering isogenic recombinant strains where fHbp expression was under the control of each of the eleven fIR alleles, we confirmed that the fIR sequence determines a specific and distinct level of expression. Moreover, we identified the molecular basis for variation in expression through polymorphisms within key regulatory regions that are known to affect fHbp expression. We experimentally established three expression groups, high-medium-low, that correlated directly with the susceptibility to killing mediated by anti-fHbp antibodies and the ability of the meningococcal strain to survive within human serum. By using this sequence classification and information about the variant, we predicted fHbp expression in the panel of UK strains and we observed that strains with higher expressing fIR alleles are more likely associated with invasive disease. Overall, our findings can contribute to understand and predict vaccine coverage mediated by fHbp as well as to shed light on the role of this virulence factor in determining an invasive phenotype.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1009461DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8026042PMC
March 2021

Genomic Characterization of Invasive Meningococcal Serogroup B Isolates and Estimation of 4CMenB Vaccine Coverage in Finland.

mSphere 2020 09 16;5(5). Epub 2020 Sep 16.

GSK, Siena, Italy

Invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) caused by is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. In Finland, the incidence rate of IMD is low, with meningococcal serogroup B (MenB) accounting for around one-third of IMD cases annually. The aim of this study was to investigate the genetic variability of invasive MenB isolates collected in Finland between 2010 and 2017 ( = 81), including the genes encoding the 4-component MenB vaccine (4CMenB; Bexsero; GSK) antigens and their promoters, and to evaluate the 4CMenB potential coverage. Whole-genome sequencing was performed. The meningococcal antigen typing system (MATS) was used to characterize MenB isolates and predict the potential coverage of 4CMenB. MATS was complemented by genetic MATS (gMATS) through association of antigen genotyping and phenotypic MATS results. Multilocus sequence typing revealed predominance of the ST-41/44 clonal complex among which sequence type (ST)-303 was the most common and was predicted to be covered by 4CMenB. Of the 4 major vaccine antigens, the factor H-binding protein variant 1, neisserial heparin binding antigen peptide 2, and the PorA P1.4 antigen were predominant, whereas adhesin A was present in only 4% of the 81 isolates. MATS and gMATS 4CMenB strain coverage predictions were 78% and 86%, respectively, in a subpanel of 60 isolates collected during 2010 to 2014, with a gMATS prediction of 84% for all 81 isolates. The results suggest that 4CMenB could reduce the burden of IMD in Finland and that gMATS could be applied to monitor vaccine strain coverage and predict vaccine effectiveness. 4CMenB is a 4-component vaccine used against invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) caused by serogroup B (MenB). We investigated the genetic variability of MenB in Finland and evaluated 4CMenB strain coverage by 2 different methods: MATS (meningococcal antigen typing system) and gMATS (genetic MATS). In a set of MenB isolates, 78% (MATS) and 86% (gMATS) were predicted as covered by 4CMenB, suggesting that use of 4CMenB would help reduce IMD incidence in Finland. MATS has been used in 13 countries worldwide, generating information on phenotypic characteristics that could infer protection by 4CMenB. Based on these data and genetic information, gMATS coverage predictions can be made. gMATS predicts coverage consistent with MATS for about 94% of tested strains. Unlike MATS, gMATS does not require live isolates, thus allowing the analysis also of noncultivable strains, making the coverage predictions more accurate. Therefore, gMATS can replace MATS to assess 4CMenB coverage, including in regions with no prior MATS data.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1128/mSphere.00376-20DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7494829PMC
September 2020

The global meningitis genome partnership.

J Infect 2020 10 29;81(4):510-520. Epub 2020 Jun 29.

Meningitis Research Foundation, Newminster House, 27-29 Newminster House, Baldwin Street, Bristol BS1 1LT, UK.

Genomic surveillance of bacterial meningitis pathogens is essential for effective disease control globally, enabling identification of emerging and expanding strains and consequent public health interventions. While there has been a rise in the use of whole genome sequencing, this has been driven predominately by a subset of countries with adequate capacity and resources. Global capacity to participate in surveillance needs to be expanded, particularly in low and middle-income countries with high disease burdens. In light of this, the WHO-led collaboration, Defeating Meningitis by 2030 Global Roadmap, has called for the establishment of a Global Meningitis Genome Partnership that links resources for: N. meningitidis (Nm), S. pneumoniae (Sp), H. influenzae (Hi) and S. agalactiae (Sa) to improve worldwide co-ordination of strain identification and tracking. Existing platforms containing relevant genomes include: PubMLST: Nm (31,622), Sp (15,132), Hi (1935), Sa (9026); The Wellcome Sanger Institute: Nm (13,711), Sp (> 24,000), Sa (6200), Hi (1738); and BMGAP: Nm (8785), Hi (2030). A steering group is being established to coordinate the initiative and encourage high-quality data curation. Next steps include: developing guidelines on open-access sharing of genomic data; defining a core set of metadata; and facilitating development of user-friendly interfaces that represent publicly available data.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jinf.2020.06.064DOI Listing
October 2020

STRAIN: an R package for multi-locus sequence typing from whole genome sequencing data.

BMC Bioinformatics 2019 Nov 22;20(Suppl 9):347. Epub 2019 Nov 22.

GSK, Siena, Italy.

Background: Multi-locus sequence typing (MLST) is a standard typing technique used to associate a sequence type (ST) to a bacterial isolate. When the output of whole genome sequencing (WGS) of a sample is available the ST can be assigned directly processing the read-set. Current approaches employ reads mapping (SRST2) against the MLST loci, k-mer distribution (stringMLST), selective assembly (GRAbB) or whole genome assembly (BIGSdb) followed by BLASTn sequence query. Here we present STRAIN (ST Reduced Assembly IdentificatioN), an R package that implements a hybrid strategy between assembly and mapping of the reads to assign the ST to an isolate starting from its read-sets.

Results: Analysis of 540 publicly accessible Illumina read sets showed STRAIN to be more accurate at correct allele assignment and new alleles identification compared to SRTS2, stringMLST and GRAbB. STRAIN assigned correctly 3666 out of 3780 alleles (capability to identify correct alleles 97%) and, when presented with samples containing new alleles, identified them in 3730 out of 3780 STs (capability to identify new alleles 98.7%) of the cases. On the same dataset the other tested tools achieved lower capability to identify correct alleles (from 28.5 to 96.9%) and lower capability to identify new alleles (from 1.1 to 97.1%).

Conclusions: STRAIN is a new accurate method to assign the alleles and ST to an isolate by processing the raw reads output of WGS. STRAIN is also able to retrieve new allele sequences if present. Capability to identify correct and new STs/alleles, evaluated on a benchmark dataset, are higher than other existing methods. STRAIN is designed for single allele typing as well as MLST. Its implementation in R makes allele and ST assignment simple, direct and prompt to be integrated in wider pipeline of downstream bioinformatics analyses.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12859-019-2887-1DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6873635PMC
November 2019

Genetic Meningococcal Antigen Typing System (gMATS): A genotyping tool that predicts 4CMenB strain coverage worldwide.

Vaccine 2019 02 17;37(7):991-1000. Epub 2019 Jan 17.

GSK, Siena, Italy. Electronic address:

Background: The Meningococcal Antigen Typing System (MATS) was developed to identify meningococcus group B strains with a high likelihood of being covered by the 4CMenB vaccine, but is limited by the requirement for viable isolates from culture-confirmed cases. We examined if antigen genotyping could complement MATS in predicting strain coverage by the 4CMenB vaccine.

Methods: From a panel of 3912 MATS-typed invasive meningococcal disease isolates collected in England and Wales in 2007-2008, 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, and in 16 other countries in 2000-2015, 3481 isolates were also characterized by antigen genotyping. Individual associations between antigen genotypes and MATS coverage for each 4CMenB component were used to define a genetic MATS (gMATS). gMATS estimates were compared with England and Wales human complement serum bactericidal assay (hSBA) data and vaccine effectiveness (VE) data from England.

Results: Overall, 81% of the strain panel had genetically predictable MATS coverage, with 92% accuracy and highly concordant results across national panels (Lin's accuracy coefficient, 0.98; root-mean-square deviation, 6%). England and Wales strain coverage estimates were 72-73% by genotyping (66-73% by MATS), underestimating hSBA values after four vaccine doses (88%) and VE after two doses (83%). The gMATS predicted strain coverage in other countries was 58-88%.

Conclusions: gMATS can replace MATS in predicting 4CMenB strain coverage in four out of five cases, without requiring a cultivable isolate, and is open to further improvement. Both methods underestimated VE in England. Strain coverage predictions in other countries matched or exceeded England and Wales estimates.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.vaccine.2018.12.061DOI Listing
February 2019

A Pipeline for the Analysis of High Density Arrays of Bacterial Transcriptomes.

Front Mol Biosci 2016 20;3:82. Epub 2016 Dec 20.

GSK Vaccines Srl Siena, Italy.

is a pipeline for bacterial transcriptome studies based on high-density microarray experiments. The main algorithm , integrates the analysis of the hybridization signal with the genomic position of probes and identifies portions of the genome transcribing for mRNAs. The pipeline includes a procedure, , to build a multiple alignment of transcripts originating in the same locus in multiple experiments and provides a method to compare mRNA expression across different conditions. Finally, the pipeline includes a method to annotate the detected transcripts in comparison to the genome annotation. Overall, our pipeline allows transcriptional profile analysis of both coding and non-coding portions of the chromosome in a single framework. Importantly, due to its versatile characteristics, it will be of wide applicability to analyse, not only microarray signals, but also data from other high throughput technologies such as RNA-sequencing. The current implementation is written in Python programming language and is freely available at https://github.com/silviamicroarray/chipSAD.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fmolb.2016.00082DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5167695PMC
December 2016

Predicted Strain Coverage of a New Meningococcal Multicomponent Vaccine (4CMenB) in Spain: Analysis of the Differences with Other European Countries.

PLoS One 2016 7;11(3):e0150721. Epub 2016 Mar 7.

Reference Laboratory for Meningococci, National Centre for Microbiology, Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Majadahonda, Madrid, Spain.

Background: A novel meningococcal multicomponent vaccine, 4CMenB (Bexsero®), has been approved in Europe, Canada, Australia and US. The potential impact of 4CMenB on strain coverage is being estimated by using Meningococcal Antigen Typing System (MATS), an ELISA assay which measures vaccine antigen expression and diversity in each strain. Here we show the genetic characterization and the 4CMenB potential coverage of Spanish invasive strains (collected during one epidemiological year) compared to other European countries and discuss the potential reasons for the lower estimate of coverage in Spain.

Material And Methods: A panel of 300 strains, a representative sample of all serogroup B Neisseria meningitidis notified cases in Spain from 2009 to 2010, was characterized by multilocus sequence typing (MLST) and FetA variable region determination. 4CMenB vaccine antigens, PorA, factor H binding protein (fHbp), Neisseria Heparin Binding Antigen (NHBA) and Neisserial adhesin A (NadA) were molecularly typed by sequencing. PorA coverage was assigned to strain with VR2 = 4. The levels of expression and cross-reactivity of fHbp, NHBA and NadA were analyzed using MATS ELISA.

Findings: Global estimated strain coverage by MATS was 68.67% (95% CI: 47.77-84.59%), with 51.33%, 15.33% and 2% of strains covered by one, two and three vaccine antigens, respectively. The predicted strain coverage by individual antigens was: 42% NHBA, 36.33% fHbp, 8.33% PorA and 1.33% NadA. Coverage within the most prevalent clonal complexes (cc) was 70.37% for cc 269, 30.19% for cc 213 and 95.83% for cc 32.

Conclusions: Clonal complexes (cc) distribution accounts for variations in strain coverage, so that country-by-country investigations of strain coverage and cc prevalence are important. Because the cc distribution could also vary over time, which in turn could lead to changes in strain coverage, continuous detailed surveillance and monitoring of vaccine antigens expression is needed in those countries where the multicomponent vaccine is introduced. This is really important in countries like Spain where most of the strains are predicted to be covered by only one vaccine antigen and the chance for escape mutants to emerge with vaccine use is higher. Based on the observed data, cc213 should receive special attention as it is associated with low predicted strain coverage, and has recently emerged in Spain.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0150721PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4780694PMC
August 2016

Expression of factor H binding protein in meningococcal strains can vary at least 15-fold and is genetically determined.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2016 Mar 17;113(10):2714-9. Epub 2016 Feb 17.

GSK Vaccines, 53100 Siena, Italy

Factor H binding protein (fHbp) is a lipoprotein of Neisseria meningitidis important for the survival of the bacterium in human blood and a component of two recently licensed vaccines against serogroup B meningococcus (MenB). Based on 866 different amino acid sequences this protein is divided into three variants or two families. Quantification of the protein is done by immunoassays such as ELISA or FACS that are susceptible to the sequence variation and expression level of the protein. Here, selected reaction monitoring mass spectrometry was used for the absolute quantification of fHbp in a large panel of strains representative of the population diversity of MenB. The analysis revealed that the level of fHbp expression can vary at least 15-fold and that variant 1 strains express significantly more protein than variant 2 or variant 3 strains. The susceptibility to complement-mediated killing correlated with the amount of protein expressed by the different meningococcal strains and this could be predicted from the nucleotide sequence of the promoter region. Finally, the absolute quantification allowed the calculation of the number of fHbp molecules per cell and to propose a mechanistic model of the engagement of C1q, the recognition component of the complement cascade.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1521142113DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4791009PMC
March 2016

Dual RNA-seq of Nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae and Host Cell Transcriptomes Reveals Novel Insights into Host-Pathogen Cross Talk.

mBio 2015 Nov 17;6(6):e01765-15. Epub 2015 Nov 17.

R&D Centre, GSK Vaccines, Siena, Italy.

Unlabelled: The ability to adhere and adapt to the human respiratory tract mucosa plays a pivotal role in the pathogenic lifestyle of nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHi). However, the temporal events associated with a successful colonization have not been fully characterized. In this study, by reconstituting the ciliated human bronchial epithelium in vitro, we monitored the global transcriptional changes in NTHi and infected mucosal epithelium simultaneously for up to 72 h by dual RNA sequencing. The initial stage of colonization was characterized by the binding of NTHi to ciliated cells. Temporal profiling of host mRNA signatures revealed significant dysregulation of the target cell cytoskeleton elicited by bacterial infection, with a profound effect on the intermediate filament network and junctional complexes. In response to environmental stimuli of the host epithelium, NTHi downregulated its central metabolism and increased the expression of transporters, indicating a change in the metabolic regime due to the availability of host substrates. Concurrently, the oxidative environment generated by infected cells instigated bacterial expression of stress-induced defense mechanisms, including the transport of exogenous glutathione and activation of the toxin-antitoxin system. The results of this analysis were validated by those of confocal microscopy, Western blotting, Bio-plex, and real-time quantitative reverse transcription-PCR (qRT-PCR). Notably, as part of our screening for novel signatures of infection, we identified a global profile of noncoding transcripts that are candidate small RNAs (sRNAs) regulated during human host infection in Haemophilus species. Our data, by providing a robust and comprehensive representation of the cross talk between the host and invading pathogen, provides important insights into NTHi pathogenesis and the development of efficacious preventive strategies.

Importance: Simultaneous monitoring of infection-linked transcriptome alterations in an invading pathogen and its target host cells represents a key strategy for identifying regulatory responses that drive pathogenesis. In this study, we report the progressive events of NTHi colonization in a highly differentiated model of ciliated bronchial epithelium. Genome-wide transcriptome maps of NTHi during infection provided mechanistic insights into bacterial adaptive responses to the host niche, with modulation of the central metabolism as an important signature of the evolving milieu. Our data indicate that infected epithelia respond by substantial alteration of the cytoskeletal network and cytokine repertoire, revealing a dynamic cross talk that is responsible for the onset of inflammation. This work significantly enhances our understanding of the means by which NTHi promotes infection on human mucosae and reveals novel strategies exploited by this important pathogen to cause invasive disease.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1128/mBio.01765-15DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4659474PMC
November 2015

Global transcriptome analysis reveals small RNAs affecting Neisseria meningitidis bacteremia.

PLoS One 2015 7;10(5):e0126325. Epub 2015 May 7.

Novartis Vaccines and Diagnotics, Siena, Italy.

Most bacterial small RNAs (sRNAs) are post-transcriptional regulators involved in adaptive responses, controlling gene expression by modulating translation or stability of their target mRNAs often in concert with the RNA chaperone Hfq. Neisseria meningitides, the leading cause of bacterial meningitis, is able to adapt to different host niches during human infection. However, only a few sRNAs and their functions have been fully described to date. Recently, transcriptional expression profiling of N. meningitides in human blood ex vivo revealed 91 differentially expressed putative sRNAs. Here we expanded this analysis by performing a global transcriptome study after exposure of N. meningitides to physiologically relevant stress signals (e.g. heat shock, oxidative stress, iron and carbon source limitation). and we identified putative sRNAs that were differentially expressed in vitro. A set of 98 putative sRNAs was obtained by analyzing transcriptome data and 8 new sRNAs were validated, both by Northern blot and by primer extension techniques. Deletion of selected sRNAs caused attenuation of N. meningitides infection in the in vivo infant rat model, leading to the identification of the first sRNAs influencing meningococcal bacteremia. Further analysis indicated that one of the sRNAs affecting bacteremia responded to carbon source availability through repression by a GntR-like transcriptional regulator. Both the sRNA and the GntR-like regulator are implicated in the control of gene expression from a common network involved in energy metabolism.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0126325PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4423775PMC
April 2016

Whole-Genome Sequences of Nonencapsulated Haemophilus influenzae Strains Isolated in Italy.

Genome Announc 2015 Mar 26;3(2). Epub 2015 Mar 26.

Novartis Vaccines, Siena, Italy.

Haemophilus influenzae is an important human pathogen involved in invasive disease. Here, we report the whole-genome sequences of 11 nonencapsulated H. influenzae (ncHi) strains isolated from both invasive disease and healthy carriers in Italy. This genomic information will enrich our understanding of the molecular basis of ncHi pathogenesis.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1128/genomeA.00110-15DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4384133PMC
March 2015

Analysis of two-component systems in group B Streptococcus shows that RgfAC and the novel FspSR modulate virulence and bacterial fitness.

mBio 2014 May 20;5(3):e00870-14. Epub 2014 May 20.

Novartis Vaccines, Siena, Italy

Unlabelled: Group B Streptococcus (GBS), in the transition from commensal organisms to pathogens, will encounter diverse host environments and, thus, require coordinated control of the transcriptional responses to these changes. This work was aimed at better understanding the role of two-component signal transduction systems (TCS) in GBS pathophysiology through a systematic screening procedure. We first performed a complete inventory and sensory mechanism classification of all putative GBS TCS by genomic analysis. Five TCS were further investigated by the generation of knockout strains, and in vitro transcriptome analysis identified genes regulated by these systems, ranging from 0.1% to 3% of the genome. Interestingly, two sugar phosphotransferase systems appeared to be differentially regulated in the TCS-16 knockout strain (TCS loci were numbered in order of their appearance on the chromosome), suggesting an involvement in monitoring carbon source availability. High-throughput analysis of bacterial growth on different carbon sources showed that TCS-16 was necessary for the growth of GBS on fructose-6-phosphate. Additional transcriptional analysis provided further evidence for a stimulus-response circuit where extracellular fructose-6-phosphate leads to autoinduction of TCS-16, with concomitant dramatic upregulation of the adjacent operon, which encodes a phosphotransferase system. The TCS-16-deficient strain exhibited decreased persistence in a model of vaginal colonization. All mutant strains were also characterized in a murine model of systemic infection, and inactivation of TCS-17 (also known as RgfAC) resulted in hypervirulence. Our data suggest a role for the previously unknown TCS-16, here named FspSR, in bacterial fitness and carbon metabolism during host colonization, and the data also provide experimental evidence for TCS-17/RgfAC involvement in virulence.

Importance: Two-component systems have been evolved by bacteria to detect environmental changes, and they play key roles in pathogenicity. A comprehensive analysis of TCS in GBS has not been performed previously. In this work, we classify 21 TCS and present evidence for the involvement of two specific TCS in GBS virulence and colonization in vivo. Although pinpointing specific TCS stimuli is notoriously difficult, we used a combination of techniques to identify two systems with different effects on GBS pathogenesis. For one of the systems, we propose that fructose-6-phosphate, a metabolite in glycolysis, is sufficient to induce a regulatory response involving a sugar transport system. Our catalogue and classification of TCS may guide further studies into the role of TCS in GBS pathogenicity and biology.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1128/mBio.00870-14DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4030450PMC
May 2014

Neisseria adhesin A variation and revised nomenclature scheme.

Clin Vaccine Immunol 2014 Jul 7;21(7):966-71. Epub 2014 May 7.

Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom.

Neisseria adhesin A (NadA), involved in the adhesion and invasion of Neisseria meningitidis into host tissues, is one of the major components of Bexsero, a novel multicomponent vaccine licensed for protection against meningococcal serogroup B in Europe, Australia, and Canada. NadA has been identified in approximately 30% of clinical isolates and in a much lower proportion of carrier isolates. Three protein variants were originally identified in invasive meningococci and named NadA-1, NadA-2, and NadA-3, whereas most carrier isolates either lacked the gene or harbored a different variant, NadA-4. Further analysis of isolates belonging to the sequence type 213 (ST-213) clonal complex identified NadA-5, which was structurally similar to NadA-4, but more distantly related to NadA-1, -2, and -3. At the time of this writing, more than 89 distinct nadA allele sequences and 43 distinct peptides have been described. Here, we present a revised nomenclature system, taking into account the complete data set, which is compatible with previous classification schemes and is expandable. The main features of this new scheme include (i) the grouping of the previously named NadA-2 and NadA-3 variants into a single NadA-2/3 variant, (ii) the grouping of the previously assigned NadA-4 and NadA-5 variants into a single NadA-4/5 variant, (iii) the introduction of an additional variant (NadA-6), and (iv) the classification of the variants into two main groups, named groups I and II. To facilitate querying of the sequences and submission of new allele sequences, the nucleotide and amino acid sequences are available at http://pubmlst.org/neisseria/NadA/.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1128/CVI.00825-13DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4097447PMC
July 2014

Diversity of Greek meningococcal serogroup B isolates and estimated coverage of the 4CMenB meningococcal vaccine.

BMC Microbiol 2014 Apr 29;14:111. Epub 2014 Apr 29.

National Meningitis Reference Laboratory, National School of Public Health Athens, 196, Alexandras Avenue, Athens, Greece.

Background: Serogroup B meningococcal (MenB) isolates currently account for approximately 90% of invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) in Greece with ST-162 clonal complex predominating. The potential of a multicomponent meningococcal B vaccine (4CMenB) recently licensed in Europe was investigated in order to find whether the aforementioned vaccine will cover the MenB strains circulating in Greece. A panel of 148 serogroup B invasive meningococcal strains was characterized by multilocus sequence typing (MLST) and PorA subtyping. Vaccine components were typed by sequencing for factor H-binding protein (fHbp), Neisserial Heparin Binding Antigen (NHBA) and Neisseria adhesin A (NadA). Their expression was explored by Meningococcal Antigen Typing System (MATS).

Results: Global strain coverage predicted by MATS was 89.2% (95% CI 63.5%-98.6%) with 44.6%, 38.5% and 6.1% of strains covered by one, two and three vaccine antigens respectively. NHBA was the antigen responsible for the highest coverage (78.4%), followed by fHbp (52.7%), PorA (8.1%) and NadA (0.7%). The coverage of the major genotypes did not differ significantly. The most prevalent MLST genotype was the ST-162 clonal complex , accounting for 44.6% of the strains in the panel and with a predicted coverage of 86.4%, mainly due to NHBA and fHbp.

Conclusions: 4CMenB has the potential to protect against a significant proportion of Greek invasive MenB strains.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/1471-2180-14-111DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4018652PMC
April 2014

Genome sequencing of disease and carriage isolates of nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae identifies discrete population structure.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2014 Apr 25;111(14):5439-44. Epub 2014 Mar 25.

Novartis Vaccines, 53100 Siena, Italy.

One of the main hurdles for the development of an effective and broadly protective vaccine against nonencapsulated isolates of Haemophilus influenzae (NTHi) lies in the genetic diversity of the species, which renders extremely difficult the identification of cross-protective candidate antigens. To assess whether a population structure of NTHi could be defined, we performed genome sequencing of a collection of diverse clinical isolates representative of both carriage and disease and of the diversity of the natural population. Analysis of the distribution of polymorphic sites in the core genome and of the composition of the accessory genome defined distinct evolutionary clades and supported a predominantly clonal evolution of NTHi, with the majority of genetic information transmitted vertically within lineages. A correlation between the population structure and the presence of selected surface-associated proteins and lipooligosaccharide structure, known to contribute to virulence, was found. This high-resolution, genome-based population structure of NTHi provides the foundation to obtain a better understanding, of NTHi adaptation to the host as well as its commensal and virulence behavior, that could facilitate intervention strategies against disease caused by this important human pathogen.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1403353111DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3986186PMC
April 2014

Variability of genes encoding surface proteins used as vaccine antigens in meningococcal endemic and epidemic strain panels from Norway.

Vaccine 2014 May 12;32(23):2722-31. Epub 2014 Mar 12.

Division of Infectious Disease Control, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway; Section for International Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.

Surface-expressed protein antigens such as factor H-binding protein (fHbp), Neisserial adhesin A (NadA), Neisserial heparin-binding antigen (NHBA) and Porin protein A (PorA); all express sequence variability that can affect their function as protective immunogens when used in meningococcal serogroup B vaccines like the recently-approved 4CMenB (Bexsero(®)). We assessed the sequence variation of genes coding for these proteins and two additional proteins ("fusion partners" to fHbp and NHBA) in pathogenic isolates from a recent low incidence period (endemic situation; 2005-2006) in Norway. Findings among strains from this panel were contrasted to what was found among isolates from a historic outbreak (epidemic situation; 1985-1990). Multilocus sequence typing revealed 14 clonal complexes (cc) among the 66 endemic strains, while cc32 vastly predominated in the 38-strain epidemic panel. Serogroup B isolates accounted for 50/66 among endemic strains and 28/38 among epidemic strains. Potential strain-coverage ("sequence match") for the 4CMenB vaccine was identified among the majority (>70%) of the endemic serogroup B isolates and all of the epidemic serogroup B isolates evaluated. Further information about the degree of expression, surface availability and the true cross-reactivity for the vaccine antigens will be needed to fully characterize the clinical strain-coverage of 4CMenB in various geographic and epidemiological situations.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.vaccine.2014.02.068DOI Listing
May 2014

Conservation of meningococcal antigens in the genus Neisseria.

mBio 2013 Jun 11;4(3):e00163-13. Epub 2013 Jun 11.

Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, Siena, Italy.

Neisseria meningitidis, one of the major causes of bacterial meningitis and sepsis, is a member of the genus Neisseria, which includes species that colonize the mucosae of many animals. Three meningococcal proteins, factor H-binding protein (fHbp), neisserial heparin-binding antigen (NHBA), and N. meningitidis adhesin A (NadA), have been described as antigens protective against N. meningitidis of serogroup B, and they have been employed as vaccine components in preclinical and clinical studies. In the vaccine formulation, fHbp and NHBA were fused to the GNA2091 and GNA1030 proteins, respectively, to enhance protein stability and immunogenicity. To determine the possible impact of vaccination on commensal neisseriae, we determined the presence, distribution, and conservation of these antigens in the available genome sequences of the genus Neisseria, finding that fHbp, NHBA, and NadA were conserved only in species colonizing humans, while GNA1030 and GNA2091 were conserved in many human and nonhuman neisseriae. Sequence analysis showed that homologous recombination contributed to shape the evolution and distribution of both NHBA and fHbp, three major variants of which have been defined. fHbp variant 3 was probably the ancestral form of meningococcal fHbp, while fHbp variant 1 from N. cinerea was introduced into N. meningitidis by a recombination event. fHbp variant 2 was the result of a recombination event inserting a stretch of 483 bp from variant 1 into the variant 3 background. These data indicate that a high rate of exchange of genetic material between neisseriae that colonize the human upper respiratory tract exists. IMPORTANCE The upper respiratory tract of healthy individuals is a complex ecosystem colonized by many bacterial species. Among these, there are representatives of the genus Neisseria, including Neisseria meningitidis, a major cause of bacterial meningitis and sepsis. Given the close relationship between commensal and pathogenic species, a protein-based vaccine against N. meningitidis has the potential to impact the other commensal species of Neisseria. For this reason, we have studied the distribution and evolutionary history of the antigen components of a recombinant vaccine, 4CMenB, that recently received approval in Europe under the commercial name of Bexsero®. We found that fHbp, NHBA, and NadA can be found in some of the human commensal species and that the evolution of these antigens has been essentially shaped by the high rate of genetic exchange that occurs between strains of neisseriae that cocolonize the same environment.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1128/mBio.00163-13DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3685207PMC
June 2013

An analysis of the sequence variability of meningococcal fHbp, NadA and NHBA over a 50-year period in the Netherlands.

PLoS One 2013 24;8(5):e65043. Epub 2013 May 24.

Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, Siena, Italy.

Studies of meningococcal evolution and genetic population structure, including the long-term stability of non-random associations between variants of surface proteins, are essential for vaccine development. We analyzed the sequence variability of factor H-binding protein (fHbp), Neisserial Heparin-Binding Antigen (NHBA) and Neisseria adhesin A (NadA), three major antigens in the multicomponent meningococcal serogroup B vaccine 4CMenB. A panel of invasive isolates collected in the Netherlands over a period of 50 years was used. To our knowledge, this strain collection covers the longest time period of any collection available worldwide. Long-term persistence of several antigen sub/variants and of non-overlapping antigen sub/variant combinations was observed. Our data suggest that certain antigen sub/variants including those used in 4CMenB are conserved over time and promoted by selection.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0065043PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3663754PMC
November 2013

The adjuvant effect of MF59 is due to the oil-in-water emulsion formulation, none of the individual components induce a comparable adjuvant effect.

Vaccine 2013 Jul 16;31(33):3363-9. Epub 2013 May 16.

Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics Research Center, Via Fiorentina 1, I-53100 Siena, Italy.

MF59 is a safe and effective vaccine adjuvant that has been used in a licensed seasonal influenza vaccine for 15 years. The purpose of the present studies was to directly address a question that has been asked of us on many occasions: "which is the adjuvant active component of MF59?". Since we have recently gained a number of insights on how MF59 works as an adjuvant, we were able to use these approaches to evaluate if the individual components of MF59 (squalene oil, the surfactants Span 85 and Tween 80 or the citrate buffer) showed any direct immunostimulatory activity. We assessed the ability of the individual components to stimulate the innate and adaptive immune responses that we have shown to be indicative of MF59-mediated adjuvanticity. No immune stimulatory capacities could be attributed to squalene, Tween 80 or the citrate buffer alone. Instead, we found that the lipophilic surfactant Span 85 contributes to activation of the muscle transcriptome. However, despite this local activation, Span 85 alone - like the other single components of MF59 - is not sufficient to induce an adjuvant effect. Only the fully formulated MF59 emulsion induces all the established hallmarks of innate and adaptive immune activation, which includes activation of genes indicative of transendothelial cell migration, strong influx of immune cells into the injection site and their enhanced antigen uptake and transport to the lymph nodes. These observations may have important implications in the design of optimal emulsion-based vaccine adjuvants.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.vaccine.2013.05.007DOI Listing
July 2013

Sequence analysis of 96 genomic regions identifies distinct evolutionary lineages within CC156, the largest Streptococcus pneumoniae clonal complex in the MLST database.

PLoS One 2013 12;8(4):e61003. Epub 2013 Apr 12.

Research Center, Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, Siena, Italy.

Multi-Locus Sequence Typing (MLST) of Streptococcus pneumoniae is based on the sequence of seven housekeeping gene fragments. The analysis of MLST allelic profiles by eBURST allows the grouping of genetically related strains into Clonal Complexes (CCs) including those genotypes with a common descent from a predicted ancestor. However, the increasing use of MLST to characterize S. pneumoniae strains has led to the identification of a large number of new Sequence Types (STs) causing the merger of formerly distinct lineages into larger CCs. An example of this is the CC156, displaying a high level of complexity and including strains with allelic profiles differing in all seven of the MLST loci, capsular type and the presence of the Pilus Islet-1 (PI-1). Detailed analysis of the CC156 indicates that the identification of new STs, such as ST4945, induced the merging of formerly distinct clonal complexes. In order to discriminate the strain diversity within CC156, a recently developed typing schema, 96-MLST, was used to analyse 66 strains representative of 41 different STs. Analysis of allelic profiles by hierarchical clustering and a minimum spanning tree identified ten genetically distinct evolutionary lineages. Similar results were obtained by phylogenetic analysis on the concatenated sequences with different methods. The identified lineages are homogenous in capsular type and PI-1 presence. ST4945 strains were unequivocally assigned to one of the lineages. In conclusion, the identification of new STs through an exhaustive analysis of pneumococcal strains from various laboratories has highlighted that potentially unrelated subgroups can be grouped into a single CC by eBURST. The analysis of additional loci, such as those included in the 96-MLST schema, will be necessary to accurately discriminate the clonal evolution of the pneumococcal population.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0061003PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3625235PMC
October 2013

Adaptive response of Group B streptococcus to high glucose conditions: new insights on the CovRS regulation network.

PLoS One 2013 9;8(4):e61294. Epub 2013 Apr 9.

Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, Siena, Italy.

Although the contribution of carbohydrate catabolism to bacterial colonization and infection is well recognized, the transcriptional changes during these processes are still unknown. In this study, we have performed comparative global gene expression analysis of GBS in sugar-free versus high glucose milieu. The analysis revealed a differential expression of genes involved in metabolism, transport and host-pathogen interaction. Many of them appeared to be among the genes previously reported to be controlled by the CovRS two-component system. Indeed, the transcription profile of a ΔcovRS strain grown in high-glucose conditions was profoundly affected. In particular, of the total genes described to be regulated by glucose, ∼27% were under CovRS control with a functional role in protein synthesis, transport, energy metabolism and regulation. Among the CovRS dependent genes, we found bibA, a recently characterized adhesin involved in bacterial serum resistance and here reported to be down-regulated by glucose. ChIP analysis revealed that in the presence of glucose, CovR binds bibA promoter in vivo, suggesting that CovR may act as a negative regulator or a repressor. We also demonstrated that, as for other target promoters, chemical phosphorylation of CovR in aspartic acid increases its affinity for the bibA promoter region. The data reported in this study contribute to the understanding of the molecular mechanisms modulating the adaptation of GBS to glucose.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0061294PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3621830PMC
October 2013

Predicted strain coverage of a meningococcal multicomponent vaccine (4CMenB) in Europe: a qualitative and quantitative assessment.

Lancet Infect Dis 2013 May 13;13(5):416-25. Epub 2013 Feb 13.

University of Würzburg, Institute for Hygiene and Microbiology, Würzburg, Germany.

Background: A novel multicomponent vaccine against meningococcal capsular group B (MenB) disease contains four major components: factor-H-binding protein, neisserial heparin binding antigen, neisserial adhesin A, and outer-membrane vesicles derived from the strain NZ98/254. Because the public health effect of the vaccine, 4CMenB (Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, Siena, Italy), is unclear, we assessed the predicted strain coverage in Europe.

Methods: We assessed invasive MenB strains isolated mainly in the most recent full epidemiological year in England and Wales, France, Germany, Italy, and Norway. Meningococcal antigen typing system (MATS) results were linked to multilocus sequence typing and antigen sequence data. To investigate whether generalisation of coverage applied to the rest of Europe, we also assessed isolates from the Czech Republic and Spain.

Findings: 1052 strains collected from July, 2007, to June, 2008, were assessed from England and Wales, France, Germany, Italy, and Norway. All MenB strains contained at least one gene encoding a major antigen in the vaccine. MATS predicted that 78% of all MenB strains would be killed by postvaccination sera (95% CI 63-90, range of point estimates 73-87% in individual country panels). Half of all strains and 64% of covered strains could be targeted by bactericidal antibodies against more than one vaccine antigen. Results for the 108 isolates from the Czech Republic and 300 from Spain were consistent with those for the other countries.

Interpretation: MATS analysis showed that a multicomponent vaccine could protect against a substantial proportion of invasive MenB strains isolated in Europe. Monitoring of antigen expression, however, will be needed in the future.

Funding: Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1473-3099(13)70006-9DOI Listing
May 2013

An extended multi-locus molecular typing schema for Streptococcus pneumoniae demonstrates that a limited number of capsular switch events is responsible for serotype heterogeneity of closely related strains from different countries.

Infect Genet Evol 2013 Jan 27;13:151-61. Epub 2012 Sep 27.

Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, Via Fiorentina 1, I-53100 Siena, Italy.

Streptococcus pneumoniae is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Pneumococcal strains are classified according to their capsular serotype and through a Multi-Locus Sequence Typing schema (MLST) based on the sequencing of seven housekeeping genes. However, strains with a defined allelic profile (Sequence Type, ST) can have different serotypes, suggesting that the micro-evolution of the MLST lineages leads to a considerable degree of phenotypic variability. To better investigate the genetic diversity within these lineages, we set-up and then validated an extended molecular typing schema (96-MLST) based on the sequencing of ninety-six genomic loci. 96-MLST loci were designed within core-genes in a collection of 39 complete genomes of S. pneumoniae. None of the capsular genes was included in the schema. When tested on a collection of 69 isolates, 96-MLST was able to partition strains with the same ST and diverse serotypes into groups that were homogenous for capsular serotype, improving our understanding of the evolution of epidemiologically relevant lineages. Phylogenetic sequence analysis showed that the capsular heterogeneity of three STs that were sampled more extensively could be traced back to a limited number of capsular switch events, indicating that changes of serotype occur occasionally during the short term expansion of clones. Moreover, a geographical structure of ST156 was identified, suggesting that the resolution guaranteed by this method is sufficient for phylogeographic studies. In conclusion, we showed that an extended typing schema was able to characterize the expansion of individual lineages in a complex species such as S. pneumoniae.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2012.09.008DOI Listing
January 2013

Analysis of the regulated transcriptome of Neisseria meningitidis in human blood using a tiling array.

J Bacteriol 2012 Nov 14;194(22):6217-32. Epub 2012 Sep 14.

Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, Siena, Italy.

Neisseria meningitidis is the major cause of septicemia and meningococcal meningitis. During the course of infection, the bacterium must adapt to different host environments as a crucial factor for survival and dissemination; in particular, one of the crucial factors in N. meningitidis pathogenesis is the ability to grow and survive in human blood. We recently showed that N. meningitidis alters the expression of 30% of the open reading frames (ORFs) of the genome during incubation in human whole blood and suggested the presence of fine regulation at the gene expression level in order to control this step of pathogenesis. In this work, we used a customized tiling oligonucleotide microarray to define the changes in the whole transcriptional profile of N. meningitidis in a time course experiment of ex vivo bacteremia by incubating bacteria in human whole blood and then recovering RNA at different time points. The application of a newly developed bioinformatic tool to the tiling array data set allowed the identification of new transcripts--small intergenic RNAs, cis-encoded antisense RNAs, mRNAs with extended 5' and 3' untranslated regions (UTRs), and operons--differentially expressed in human blood. Here, we report a panel of expressed small RNAs, some of which can potentially regulate genes involved in bacterial metabolism, and we show, for the first time in N. meningitidis, extensive antisense transcription activity. This analysis suggests the presence of a circuit of regulatory RNA elements used by N. meningitidis to adapt to proliferate in human blood that is worthy of further investigation.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1128/JB.01055-12DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3486417PMC
November 2012

MF59 and Pam3CSK4 boost adaptive responses to influenza subunit vaccine through an IFN type I-independent mechanism of action.

J Immunol 2012 Apr 20;188(7):3088-98. Epub 2012 Feb 20.

Research Center, Novartis Vaccine and Diagnostics, 53100 Siena, Italy.

The innate immune pathways induced by adjuvants required to increase adaptive responses to influenza subunit vaccines are not well characterized. We profiled different TLR-independent (MF59 and alum) and TLR-dependent (CpG, resiquimod, and Pam3CSK4) adjuvants for the ability to increase the immunogenicity to a trivalent influenza seasonal subunit vaccine and to tetanus toxoid (TT) in mouse. Although all adjuvants boosted the Ab responses to TT, only MF59 and Pam3CSK4 were able to enhance hemagglutinin Ab responses. To identify innate immune correlates of adjuvanticity to influenza subunit vaccine, we investigated the gene signatures induced by each adjuvant in vitro in splenocytes and in vivo in muscle and lymph nodes using DNA microarrays. We found that flu adjuvanticity correlates with the upregulation of proinflammatory genes and other genes involved in leukocyte transendothelial migration at the vaccine injection site. Confocal and FACS analysis confirmed that MF59 and Pam3CSK4 were the strongest inducers of blood cell recruitment in the muscle compared with the other adjuvants tested. Even though it has been proposed that IFN type I is required for adjuvanticity to influenza vaccines, we found that MF59 and Pam3CSK4 were not good inducers of IFN-related innate immunity pathways. By contrast, resiquimod failed to enhance the adaptive response to flu despite a strong activation of the IFN pathway in muscle and lymph nodes. By blocking IFN type I receptor through a mAb, we confirmed that the adjuvanticity of MF59 and Pam3CSK4 to a trivalent influenza vaccine and to TT is IFN independent.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.4049/jimmunol.1101764DOI Listing
April 2012

Population genetics and evolution of the pan-genome of Streptococcus pneumoniae.

Int J Med Microbiol 2011 Dec 13;301(8):619-22. Epub 2011 Oct 13.

Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, Via Fiorentina 1, 53100 Siena, Italy.

The genetic variability in bacterial species is much larger than in other kingdoms of life. The gene content between pairs of isolates can diverge by as much as 30% in species like Escherichia coli or Streptococcus pneumoniae. This unexpected finding led to the introduction of the concept of the pan-genome, the set of genes that can be found in a given bacterial species. The genome of any isolate is thus composed by a "core genome" shared by all strains and characteristic of the species, and a "dispensable genome" that accounts for many of the phenotypic differences between strains. The pan-genome is usually much larger than the genome of any single isolate and, given the ability of many bacteria to exchange genetic material with the environment, constitutes a reservoir that could enhance their ability to survive in a mutating environment. To understand the evolution of the pan-genome of an important pathogen and its interactions with the commensal microbial flora, we have analyzed the genomes of 44 strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae, one of the most important causes of microbial diseases in humans. Despite evidence of extensive homologous recombination, the S. pneumoniae phylogenetic tree reconstructed from polymorphisms in the core genome identified major groups of genetically related strains. With the exception of serotype 1, the tree correlated poorly with capsular serotype, geographical site of isolation and disease outcome. The distribution of dispensable genes was consistent with phylogeny, although horizontal gene transfer events attenuated this correlation in the case of ancient lineages. Homologous recombination, involving short stretches of DNA, was the dominant evolutionary process of the core genome of S. pneumoniae. Genetic exchange with related species sharing the same ecological niche was the main mechanism of evolution of S. pneumonia; and S. mitis was the main reservoir of genetic diversity of S. pneumoniae. The pan-genome of S. pneumoniae increased logarithmically with the number of strains and linearly with the variability of the sample, suggesting that acquired genes accumulate proportionately to the age of clones.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijmm.2011.09.008DOI Listing
December 2011

The Streptococcus pneumoniae pilus-1 displays a biphasic expression pattern.

PLoS One 2011 22;6(6):e21269. Epub 2011 Jun 22.

Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, Siena, Italy.

The Streptococcus pneumoniae pilus-1 is encoded by pilus islet 1 (PI-1), which has three clonal variants (clade I, II and III) and is present in about 30% of clinical pneumococcal isolates. In vitro and in vivo assays have demonstrated that pilus-1 is involved in attachment to epithelial cells and virulence, as well as protection in mouse models of infection. Several reports suggest that pilus-1 expression is tightly regulated and involves the interplay of numerous genetic regulators, including the PI-1 positive regulator RlrA. In this report we provide evidence that pilus expression, when analyzed at the single-cell level in PI-1 positive strains, is biphasic. In fact, the strains present two phenotypically different sub-populations of bacteria, one that expresses the pilus, while the other does not. The proportions of these two phenotypes are variable among the strains tested and are not influenced by genotype, serotype, growth conditions, colony morphology or by the presence of antibodies directed toward the pilus components. Two sub-populations, enriched in pilus expressing or not expressing bacteria were obtained by means of colony selection and immuno-detection methods for five strains. PI-1 sequencing in the two sub-populations revealed the absence of mutations, thus indicating that the biphasic expression observed is not due to a genetic modification within PI-1. Microarray expression profile and western blot analyses on whole bacterial lysates performed comparing the two enriched sub-populations, revealed that pilus expression is regulated at the transcriptional level (on/off regulation), and that there are no other genes, in addition to those encoded by PI-1, concurrently regulated across the strains tested. Finally, we provide evidence that the over-expression of the RrlA positive regulator is sufficient to induce pilus expression in pilus-1 negative bacteria. Overall, the data presented here suggest that the observed biphasic pilus expression phenotype could be an example of bistability in pneumococcus.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0021269PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3120856PMC
November 2011

A novel epigenetic regulator associated with the hypervirulent Neisseria meningitidis clonal complex 41/44.

FASEB J 2011 Oct 16;25(10):3622-33. Epub 2011 Jun 16.

Microbial Molecular Biology, Novartis Vaccines, Via Fiorentina, 1, 53100 Siena, Italy.

Neisseria meningitidis is a major cause of septicemia and meningitis. The hypervirulent clonal complex 41/44 (cc41/44) has emerged as the predominant cause of serogroup B meningococcal disease, having been responsible for recent outbreaks and epidemics worldwide. However, the meningococcal factors that enable transition from asymptomatic carriage to rapidly progressing disease are poorly understood. Here we describe a novel phase-variable DNA methyltransferase, ModD, which was identified in the genome sequence of a New Zealand epidemic isolate. Investigation of the distribution of modD in the wider meningococcal population, by PCR and sequence analysis of genetically diverse N. meningitidis strains, revealed the presence of modD in 20/27 strains in cc41/44, but in only 2/47 strains from other clonal complexes, indicating a significant association of modD with cc41/44 (Fisher's exact P value=3×10(-10)). The modD gene contains 5'-ACCGA-3' repeats that mediate phase variation, leading to reversible on/off switching of modD expression. Microarray analysis of modD-on/off variants revealed that ModD regulates expression of multiple genes involved in colonization, infection, and protection against host defenses, with increased catalase expression in the modD-on variant conferring increased resistance to oxidative stress. The modulation of gene expression via the ModD phase-variable regulon (phasevarion), and its significant association with the cc41/44, suggest a role in the fitness and/or pathogenesis of strains belonging to the cc41/44.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1096/fj.11-183590DOI Listing
October 2011