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Pathogen-specific antibody response in infective endocarditis and characterization of antibacterial monoclonal antibodies

  • Infective endocarditis (IE) is a potentially life-threatening infection of the endocardial surfaces of the heart, most frequently the valves. It is typically caused by bacteria, less commonly by fungi. Over the past years, the morbidity and mortality of IE have gradually increased, and it is now the fourth most common life-threatening infection after sepsis, pneumonia, and intra-abdominal abscess. Despite advances in cardiac imaging and diagnostic techniques, the diagnosis of IE remains challenging. The lack of fast and reliable diagnosis of IE can lead to serious complications. Therefore, new diagnostic and therapeutic tools are urgently needed. This study had two main aims: (i) to investigate whether a pathogen-specific antibody response in IE patients is mounted against different IE pathogens and whether analysis of such a response might be useful for complementing the classical blood culture diagnosis, and (ii) generate and characterize neutralizing monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) against three virulence factors of Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), which is the most common etiological agent in IE. Our research group has recently established an xMAP® (Luminex®) technology-based serological assay that simultaneously quantifies the antibody response against 30 different pathogens. Within the research consortium Card-ii-Omics, we conducted a prospective, observational clinical discovery study involving 17 IE patients and 20 controls (i.e., patients with non-infectious heart-related conditions). Plasma samples were obtained on the day of IE diagnosis from all patients, while samples at later dates over the course of infection were available for only some patients. Invasive pathogens were identified by blood culture. The infection array revealed antibodies against a broad range of pathogens in both controls and IE patients, suggesting a broad immune memory. Overall, antibody levels did not significantly differ between both groups, but we observed high antibody titers against those pathogens that were detected by blood culture. Whenever available (in the case of 13/17 IE patients), back-up and follow-up plasma samples (obtained before or after diagnosis, respectively) were included in the analyses that provided valuable information about the kinetics of antibody response during the course of infection. Notably, infection array data confirmed (and extended) the blood culture data in only 2/13 cases. In three cases, serology contradicted the microbiological diagnosis, and in three cases, the infection array was able to identify pathogens, while the microbiological diagnosis failed. In three cases, serology was negative while microbiological diagnosis was positive, and in two cases, both serology and microbiological diagnosis were negative. In 6 out of 8 cases with increases in antibody levels, this response was directed against gut microbes. This supports the leaky gut hypothesis, which assumes that breaching of the gut barrier causes translocation of gut microbes into the bloodstream, which then infect the heart valves. Moreover, we observed an increase in antibody titers in 4 patients against the yeast C. albicans, suggesting a secondary fungal infection. Finally, this study emphasized that the timing of plasma collection is crucial for studying antibody kinetics in IE. After demonstrating that pathogen-specific antibodies are generated during IE, we aimed to generate mAbs against the prime IE pathogen S. aureus and study their functions on a molecular level. Using the hybridoma technology, our research group has recently generated mAbs against two S. aureus surface proteins/adhesion factors (clumping factor A (ClfA) and fibronectin-binding protein A (FnBPA)), both involved in biofilm formation, as well as an extracellular enzyme, the staphylococcal serine protease–like protein B (SplB), a virulence factor. In this work, the sequences of the mAbs were determined from hybridoma RNA. Then those mAbs were produced at a larger scale in order to determine their binding and neutralizing capacities using in vitro assays such as ELISA, Western blot, Dot blot, microscale thermophoresis, and in a mouse model. The anti-SplB mAb specifically targeted SplB, with no cross-reactivity to other Spls or extracellular proteins (ECP) of S. aureus. Though anti-SplB mAb showed moderate binding to SplB with a Kd value of 2.54 μM and high sequence homology to the germline sequence, it neutralized the enzymatic activity of SplB up to 99% in 5-fold molar excess as showed in an in vitro substrate cleavage assay. Previous work showed that SplB facilitates the release of proinflammatory cytokines in endothelial cells and induces endothelial damage in mice. Here, we demonstrated that the anti-SplB mAb efficiently blocked the function of SplB in vivo, thus markedly reducing the damage to the endothelial barrier. In conclusion, we identified the strong neutralizing potential of a mAb against SplB, which merits further investigation as a candidate for the immunotherapy of SplB-induced S. aureus pathologies, including IE. High antibody titers against S. aureus adhesins, including ClfA and FnBPA, have been reported in IE patients. Besides, ClfA is involved in serious S. aureus bloodstream and biofilm-related infections. Similarly, FnBPA facilitates biofilm formation and inhibits macrophage invasion. These important properties make the two bacterial adhesins ideal candidates for a passive vaccination strategy. We generated two murine ClfA-mAbs, ClfA-002 and ClfA-004, which showed strong specificity to ClfA. However, ClfA-004 showed reduced binding strength compared to ClfA-002 due to a single non-synonymous nucleotide change (Phe Tyr) at the CDR3 region. While the ClfA-002 mAb reduced the binding of ClfA to fibrinogen by around 60%, the ClfA-004 had no inhibitory capacity. We also generated two murine and twelve humanized anti-FnBPA mAbs, which showed similar and moderate binding to FnBPA. One murine mAb (anti-FnBPA D4) partially inhibited the binding of FnBPA to fibronectin. FnBPA contains 11 tandem repeats that can all bind to fibronectin. This redundancy could be the reason for the lack of complete inhibition. Hence, in this work, we characterized the properties of neutralizing mAbs against two adhesins of S. aureus. These mAbs should be tested in the future, alone and in combination with other mAbs and antibiotics, for their ability to reduce staphylococcal biofilm formation. In conclusion, we showed that antibody profiling of IE patients can provide valuable insights into the causative agent(s), and can help in guiding the antibiotic therapy. However, sampling is crucial in IE, which often dwells for many weeks before being clinically diagnosed. Because of the severity of IE, which can be life-threatening, I suggest to establish biobanks to store patient samples upon hospital admission that will provide a baseline in case of a later microbial infection. Moreover, our results suggest that C. albicans plays an important and so far underestimated role in IE. In the second part of the thesis, we characterized several mAbs against an S. aureus protease and two adhesins. Of high interest is a neutralizing mAb against SplB, which shows promising results in vitro and in vivo. Further in vitro and in vivo tests need to be conducted to study the anti-biofilm activity of the anti-FnBPA- and anti-ClfA-mAbs and explore their utility as therapeutic agents.

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Author: Jawad Iqbal
Referee:Prof. Dr. med. Barbara M. Bröker, PD Dr. Knut Ohlsen
Advisor:Dr. rer. nat. Silva Holtfreter
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Year of Completion:2022
Granting Institution:Universität Greifswald, Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät
Date of final exam:2022/06/22
Release Date:2022/08/25
Tag:infective endocarditis, antibody response, monoclonal antibodies, S. aureus, SplB, ClfA, FnBPA, Card-ii-Omics
GND Keyword:infective endocarditis, S. aureus, Antibody response, monoclonal antibodies, SplB, ClfA, FnBPA, Card-ii-Omics
Page Number:166
Faculties:Universitätsmedizin / Institut für Immunologie u. Transfusionsmedizin - Abteilung Immunologie
DDC class:500 Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik / 500 Naturwissenschaften