UMass Chan Medical School Faculty Publications

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Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology; Program in Molecular Medicine; Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

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Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins | Bacterial Infections and Mycoses | Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Structural Biology | Immunology and Infectious Disease


The high global burden of cryptococcosis has made development of a protective vaccine a public health priority. We previously demonstrated that a vaccine composed of recombinant Cryptococcus neoformans chitin deacetylase 2 (Cda2) delivered in glucan particles (GPs) protects BALB/c and C57BL/6 mice from an otherwise lethal challenge with a highly virulent C. neoformans strain. An immunoinformatic analysis of Cda2 revealed a peptide sequence predicted to have strong binding to the MHC Class II (MHC II) H2-IAd allele found in BALB/c mice. BALB/c mice vaccinated with GPs containing a 32 amino acid peptide (Cda2-Pep1) that included this strong binding region were protected from cryptococcosis. Protection was lost with GP-based vaccines containing versions of recombinant Cda2 protein and Cda2-Pep1 with mutations predicted to greatly diminish MHC II binding. Cda2 has homology to the three other C. neoformans chitin deacetylases, Cda1, Cda3 and Fpd1, in the high MHC II binding region. GPs loaded with homologous peptides of Cda1, Cda3 and Fpd1 protected BALB/c mice from experimental cryptococcosis, albeit not as robustly as the Cda2-Pep1 vaccine. Finally, seven other peptides were synthesized based on regions in Cda2 predicted to contain promising CD4+ T cell epitopes in BALB/c or C57BL/6 mice. While five peptide vaccines significantly protected BALB/c mice, only one protected C57BL/6 mice. Thus, GP-based vaccines containing a single peptide can protect mice against cryptococcosis. However, given the diversity of human MHC II alleles, a peptide-based Cryptococcus vaccine for use in humans would be challenging and likely need to contain multiple peptide sequences.

Importance: Cryptococcosis, due to infection by fungi of the Cryptococcus neoformans species complex, is responsible for substantial morbidity and mortality in immunocompromised persons, particularly those with AIDS. Cryptococcal vaccines are a public health priority yet are not available for human use. We previously demonstrated mice could be protected from experimental cryptococcosis with vaccines composed of recombinant cryptococcal proteins encased in hollow highly purified yeast cell walls (glucan particles). Here, we examined one such protective protein, Cda2, and using bioinformatics, identified a region predicted to stimulate strong T cell responses. A peptide containing this region formulated in glucan particle-based vaccines protected mice as well as the recombinant protein. Other peptide vaccines also protected, including peptides containing sequences from proteins homologous to Cda2. These preclinical mouse studies provide a proof of principle that peptides can be effective as vaccines to protect against cryptococcosis and that bioinformatic approaches can guide peptide selection.


Immunology, cryptococcosis, vaccine

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bioRxiv 2021.11.12.468465; doi: Link to preprint on bioRxiv.


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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License