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Finding new vaccine and diagnostic targets using Immunoproteomics

Posted by Kasra

One of the complexities in studying eukaryotic parasites is the multiplicity of their life stages. Even the simplest life cycles of eukaryotic parasites can consist of two very different stages, with different morphologies, gene expression, proteome profiles, and surface antigens. These variations often result in confusion of the immune system and disease progression instead of healing. What makes this more complicated is that very often one or more of these stages, usually the one inside the mammalian host can be difficult to culture and study in vitro. For instance, in the case of Leishmania parasites, the clinically important amastigote stage is intracellular. Methods for their axenic growth do exist; still their validity and authenticity remains controversial among researchers. Nevertheless, I believe authentic or not, axenic Leishmania amastigotes can be good tools for studying this aloof life stage of the parasite. As the famous statistician George P.E. Box says ‘Essentially, all models are wrong, but some of them are useful’.

Yet another complexity of working with these ancient species is presence of a great percentage of what genome annotators call ‘Hypothetical proteins’. These proteins appear after bioinformatic analyses of the genome sequences in search for genes. There is no other evidence rather than clues from the sequence for their existence, so they are labeled hypothetical. In addition, in many cases they have no homology to any protein with a known function, thus their function remains a big question mark, which brings me to the two papers I want to discuss!

These papers both came out last year and used immunoproteomics to hunt for new diagnostic and vaccine targets for leishmaniasis. Vinicio T. S. Coelho et al. ran 2D gels of promastigote and axenic amastigotes of Leishmania chagasi, a visceral leishmaniasis-causing species in Latin America, and blotted them against pooled sera of infected, uninfected or nonsympomatic dogs. Míriam M. Costa et al. used the colourful 2D-Difference Gel Electrophoresis (DIGE) method to look at differentially expressed proteins between promastigotes and amastigotes and also blotted them against pooled sera of uninfected, 30 day infected and chronically infected dogs to compare levels of early and late (IgM and IgG) antibodies. Both studies aimed to find immunogenic proteins as candidates for diagnosis and vaccination. For those who are not familiar with the ecology of Leishmania, I should mention that leishmaniasis is a zoonosis, and dogs are an important reservoir of the parasite that keep the cycle going, even if we prevent it in humans. Thus, vaccination of dogs against both cutaneous and visceral leishmaniasis is among the important priorities for disease control.

A combination of Difference Gel Electrophoresis and western blotting using sera allows for identification of common and stage-specific antigens. Míriam M. Costa et al. J. Proteome Research, 2011

The importance of these two studies is the application of both promastigote and amastigote proteins as sources for antigen discovery, as well as the use of sera from asymptomatic versus symptomatic dogs to characterize antibodies that arise at different stages of infection. This allows for identification of proper markers for early and advanced stages of the disease as well as knowledge about expression and antigenicity of proteins from each life stage of the parasite. Not surprisingly, in both studies, a decent number of hypothetical proteins show up. On one hand, these are not the best candidates one may look for, since we have no knowledge about their expression, function and so on. But on the other hand, I would see them as potentially interesting targets that could be worth studying. At least, we are narrowing down all the hypothetical proteins to ones for which we have data on expression and antigenicity.

In addition, the results of these studies and other studies of the similar nature should be cross-referenced in the public gene and protein databases, so that other researchers can readily access the new knowledge that has become available about these hypothetical proteins when looking them up. Once these sorts of data from various stydies start to accumulate in the databases, new patterns and insights might emerge that can lead us to an understanding of their function and possible roles in pathogenicity.

Coelho VT, Oliveira JS, Valadares DG, Chávez-Fumagalli MA, Duarte MC, Lage PS, Soto M, Santoro MM, Tavares CA, Fernandes AP, & Coelho EA (2012). Identification of Proteins in Promastigote and Amastigote-like Leishmania Using an Immunoproteomic Approach. PLoS neglected tropical diseases, 6 (1) PMID: 22272364

Costa MM, Andrade HM, Bartholomeu DC, Freitas LM, Pires SF, Chapeaurouge AD, Perales J, Ferreira AT, Giusta MS, Melo MN, & Gazzinelli RT (2011). Analysis of Leishmania chagasi by 2-D difference gel electrophoresis (2-D DIGE) and immunoproteomic: identification of novel candidate antigens for diagnostic tests and vaccine. Journal of proteome research, 10 (5), 2172-84 PMID: 21355625



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