Infection with conditionally virulent Streptococcus pneumoniae Δpab strains induces antibody to conserved protein antigens but does not protect against systemic infection with heterologous strains
Avirulent strains of a bacterial pathogen could be useful tools for investigating immunological responses to infection and potentially effective vaccines. We have therefore constructed an auxotrophic TIGR4 Δpab strain of Streptococcus pneumoniae by deleting the pabB gene Sp_0665. The TIGR4 Δpab strain grew well in complete medium but was unable to grow in serum unless it was supplemented with para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA). The TIGR4 Δpab strain was markedly attenuated in virulence in mouse models of S. pneumoniae nasopharyngeal colonization, pneumonia, and sepsis. Supplementing mouse drinking water with PABA largely restored the virulence of TIGR4 Δpab. An additional Δpab strain constructed in the D39 capsular serotype 2 background was also avirulent in a sepsis model. Systemic inoculation of mice with TIGR4 Δpab induced antibody responses to S. pneumoniae protein antigens, including PpmA, PsaA, pneumolysin, and CbpD, but not capsular polysaccharide. Flow cytometry demonstrated that IgG in sera from TIGR4 Δpab-vaccinated mice bound to the surface of TIGR4 and D39 bacteria but not to a capsular serotype 3 strain, strain 0100993. Mice vaccinated with the TIGR4 Δpab or D39 Δpab strain by intraperitoneal inoculation were protected from developing septicemia when challenged with the homologous S. pneumoniae strain. Vaccination with the TIGR4 Δpab strain provided only weak or no protection against heterologous challenge with the D39 or 0100993 strain but did strongly protect against a TIGR4 capsular-switch strain expressing a serotype 2 capsule. The failure of cross-protection after systemic vaccination with Δpab bacteria suggests that parenteral administration of a live attenuated vaccine is not an attractive approach for preventing S. pneumoniae infection.