NcMIC4 is a Neospora caninum microneme protein that has been isolated and purified on the basis of its unique lactose-binding properties. We have shown that this protein binds to galactosyl residues of lactose; antibodies directed against NcMIC4 inhibit host cell interactions in vitro, thus making it a vaccine candidate. Because of this feature, NcMIC4 was first purified on a larger scale in its native, functionally active form using lactose–agarose affinity chromatography. Second, NcMIC4 was expressed in Escherichia coli as a histidine-tagged recombinant protein (recNcMIC4) and purified through Ni-affinity chromatography. Third, NcMIC4 cDNA was cloned into the mammalian pcDNA3.1 DNA vector and expression was confirmed upon transfection of Vero cells in vitro. For vaccination studies, we employed the murine cerebral infection model based on C57Bl/6 mice, employing experimental groups of 10 mice each. Two groups were injected intraperitoneally with purified native NcMIC4 and recNcMIC4, respectively, employing RIBI adjuvant. The third group was vaccinated intramuscularly with pcDNA-NcMIC4. Control groups included an infection control, an adjuvant control, and a pcDNA3.1 control group. Following 3 injections at 4-wk intervals, mice were challenged by i.p. inoculation of 2 × 106 N. caninum tachyzoites (Nc-1 isolate). During the course of parasite challenge (3 wk), mice from the 3 different test groups showed varying degrees of symptoms bearing a semblance to neosporosis, i.e., walking disorder, rounded back, apathy, and paralysis of the hind limbs. Control groups showed no symptoms at all. Most notably, vaccination with pcDNA-MIC4 proved antiprotective, with 60% of mice succumbing to infection within 3 wk, and all mice lacking a measurable anti-NcMIC4 IgG response. NcMIC4 in its native form elicited a substantial humoral IgG1 immune response and a reduction in cerebral parasite load compared to the controls, but 20% of mice succumbed to infection. Vaccination with recNcMIC4 also resulted in 20% of mice dying; however, in this group, cerebral parasite load was similar to the controls, and recNcMIC4 vaccination elicited a mixed IgG1/IgG2 response. In conclusion, vaccines based on NcMIC4, especially pcDNA-NcMIC4, render mice more susceptible to cerebral disease upon challenge with N. caninum tachyzoites.
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