A Chlamydial Type III-Secreted Effector Protein (Tarp) Is Predominantly Recognized by Antibodies from Humans Infected with Chlamydia Trachomatis and Induces Protective Immunity Against Upper Genital Tract Pathologies in Mice

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Chlamydia trachomatis genome is predicted to encode a type III secretion system consisting of more than 40 open reading frames (ORFs). To test whether these ORFs are expressed and immunogenic during chlamydial infection in humans, we expressed 55 chlamydial ORFs covering all putative type III secretion components plus control molecules as fusion proteins and measured the reactivity of these fusion proteins with antibodies from patients infected with C. trachomatis in the urogenital tract (24 antisera) or in the ocular tissue (8 antisera). Forty-five of the 55 proteins were recognized by at least 1 of the 32 human antisera, suggesting that these proteins are both expressed and immunogenic during chlamydial infection in humans. Tarp, a putative type III secretion effector protein, was identified as a novel immunodominant antigen due to its reactivity with the human antisera at high frequency and titer. The expression and immunogenicity of Tarp were confirmed in cell culture and mouse systems. Tarp was mainly associated with the infectious form of chlamydial organisms and became undetectable between 13 and 24 h during the infection cycle in cell culture. Mice intravaginally infected with C. muridarum developed Tarp-specific humoral and cellular immune responses. More importantly, immunization of mice with Tarp induced Th1-dominant immunity that significantly reduced the shedding of live organisms from the lower genital tract and attenuated inflammatory pathologies in the fallopian tube tissues. These observations have demonstrated that Tarp, an immunodominant antigen identified by human antisera, can induce protective immunity against chlamydial infection and pathology in mice.

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