Variation in repeat number within the alpha C protein of group B streptococci alters antigenicity and protective epitopes

Claudia Gravekamp, Debra S. Horensky, James L. Michel, Lawrence C. Madoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


Variable expression of repeating units of the protective alpha C proteins among clinical isolates of group B streptococci (GBS) may have implications for vaccine development. In this study, alpha C protein genes containing various numbers of repeats (1, 2, 9, and 16) were cloned in a T7 overexpression vector in Escherichia coli. Expression was induced by isopropyl-β-D-thiogalactopyranoside, and proteins were purified by anion- exchange, gel filtration, or affinity chromatography or by isoelectric focusing. Rabbits were immunized with purified 1-, 2-, 9-, or 16-repeat proteins. All proteins appeared to be highly immunogenic. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay inhibition with 9-repeat protein as the coating antigen and 9-repeat-antigen-elicited antiserum showed that a 200-fold-higher concentration of 1-repeat antigen than of 9- or 16-repeat antigen was required for 50% inhibition of antibody-antigen binding. The concentration of 2-repeat antigen required for 50% inhibition was intermediate relative to the concentrations of 1- and 9-repeat antigens. These results suggested that antibodies to 9-repeat antigen recognized predominantly a conformational epitope(s) contained in proteins with higher numbers of repeats (9 or 16) but lost considerable binding affinities for an epitope(s) contained in alpha C proteins with fewer repeats (1 or 2). Similar results were obtained with antiserum to 16-repeat antigen. However, antibodies to 1- and 2-repeat antigens recognized 1-, 2-, 9-, and 16-repeat antigens with equal binding affinities. This finding suggested that 1- and 2-repeat-elicited antibodies recognized an epitope(s) on individual repeats. Loss of repeating units from the alpha C proteins may result in decreased protection because the loss of epitopes (including conformational epitopes) gives the microorganisms the opportunity to escape host antibodies. If 1- and 2-repeat-elicited antibodies bind all alpha C proteins with equal affinity, regardless of their repeat number, they may prevent GBS strains with fewer repeats from escaping host immunity. Protection data obtained with antisera to the proteins with different repeat numbers support this hypothesis: mouse pups challenged with GBS strain A909 were better protected when immunized with 1- or 2-repeat- elicited antiserum (76 and 75%, respectively) than when immunized with 9- or 16-repeat-elicited antiserum (41 and 48%, respectively).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3576-3583
Number of pages8
JournalInfection and immunity
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1996
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Infectious Diseases


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