Rickettsia parkeri with a genetically disrupted phage integrase gene exhibits attenuated virulence and induces protective immunity against fatal rickettsioses in mice

Esteban Arroyave, Ilirjana Hyseni, Nicole Burkhardt, Yong Fang Kuo, Tian Wang, Ulrike Munderloh, Rong Fang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Although rickettsiae can cause life-threatening infections in humans worldwide, no licensed vaccine is currently available. To evaluate the suitability of live-attenuated vaccine candidates against rickettsioses, we generated a Rickettsia parkeri mutant RPATATE_0245::pLoxHimar (named 3A2) by insertion of a modified pLoxHimar transposon into the gene encoding a phage integrase protein. For visualization and selection, R. parkeri 3A2 expressed mCherry fluorescence and resistance to spectinomycin. Compared to the parent wild type (WT) R. parkeri, the virulence of R. parkeri 3A2 was significantly attenuated as demonstrated by significantly smaller size of plaque, failure to grow in human macrophage-like cells, rapid elimination of Rickettsia and ameliorated histopathological changes in tissues in intravenously infected mice. A single dose intradermal (i.d.) immunization of R. parkeri 3A2 conferred complete protection against both fatal R. parkeri and R. conorii rickettsioses in mice, in association with a robust and durable rickettsiae-specific IgG antibody response. In summary, the disruption of RPATATE_0245 in R. parkeri resulted in a mutant with a significantly attenuated phenotype, potent immunogenicity and protective efficacy against two spotted fever group rickettsioses. Overall, this proof-of-concept study highlights the potential of R. parkeri mutants as a live-attenuated and multivalent vaccine platform in response to emergence of life-threatening spotted fever rickettsioses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number819
JournalPathogens
Volume10
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: This research was funded by Department of Defense, grant award W81XWH-18-1-0319.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

Keywords

  • Attenuated virulence
  • Fatal murine rickettsioses
  • Protective immunity
  • Rickettsial mutant

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