Immunity to Staphylococcus aureus secreted proteins protects rabbits from serious illnesses

Adam R. Spaulding, Ying Chi Lin, Joseph A. Merriman, Amanda J. Brosnahan, Marnie L. Peterson, Patrick M. Schlievert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Staphylococcus aureus causes significant illnesses throughout the world, including toxic shock syndrome (TSS), pneumonia, and infective endocarditis. Major contributors to S. aureus illnesses are secreted virulence factors it produces, including superantigens and cytolysins. This study investigates the use of superantigens and cytolysins as staphylococcal vaccine candidates. Importantly, 20% of humans and 50% of rabbits in our TSS model cannot generate antibody responses to native superantigens. We generated three TSST-1 mutants; G31S/S32P, H135A, and Q136A. All rabbits administered these TSST-1 toxoids generated strong antibody responses (titers > 10,000) that neutralized native TSST-1 in TSS models, both in vitro and in vivo. These TSST-1 mutants lacked detectable residual toxicity. Additionally, the TSST-1 mutants exhibited intrinsic adjuvant activity, increasing antibody responses to a second staphylococcal antigen (β-toxin). This effect may be due to TSST-1 mutants binding to the immune co-stimulatory molecule CD40. The superantigens TSST-1 and SEC and the cytolysin α-toxin are known to contribute to staphylococcal pneumonia. Immunization of rabbits against these secreted toxins provided complete protection from highly lethal challenge with a USA200 S. aureus strain producing all three exotoxins; USA200 strains are common causes of staphylococcal infections. The same three exotoxins plus the cytolysins β-toxin and γ-toxin contribute to infective endocarditis and sepsis caused by USA200 strains. Immunization against these five exotoxins protected rabbits from infective endocarditis and lethal sepsis. These data suggest that immunization against toxoid proteins of S. aureus exotoxins protects from serious illnesses, and concurrently superantigen toxoid mutants provide endogenous adjuvant activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5099-5109
Number of pages11
Issue number34
StatePublished - Jul 20 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by National Institutes of Health Grants R01 AI074283 , R01 AI73366 , and U54 AI57153 . P.M.S. is a member of the Great Lakes Regional Center of Excellence in Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases. Dr. Juliane Bubeck-Wardenburg is gratefully acknowledged for providing α-toxin (H35L) used in these studies.Contributors: ARS performed direct experimentation and data analyses, wrote, and edited the manuscript. JAM, Y-CL, AJB, MLP, and PMS performed direct experimentation and data analyses, and edited the manuscript. All have approved the final version for submission. Conflict of interest statement: None of the authors have conflict of interests to declare.


  • Cytolysin
  • Rabbit Model
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Superantigen
  • Vaccine


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