Tuberculosis is the deadliest infectious disease worldwide. Although the BCG vaccine is widely used, it does not efficiently protect against pulmonary tuberculosis and an improved tuberculosis vaccine is therefore urgently needed. Mycobacterium tuberculosis uses different ESX/Type VII secretion (T7S) systems to transport proteins important for virulence and host immune responses. We recently reported that secretion of T7S substrates belonging to the mycobacteria-specific Pro-Glu (PE) and Pro-Pro-Glu (PPE) proteins of the PGRS (polymorphic GC-rich sequences) and MPTR (major polymorphic tandem repeat) subfamilies required both a functional ESX-5 system and a functional PPE38/71 protein for secretion. Inactivation of ppe38/71 and the resulting loss of PE_PGRS/PPE-MPTR secretion were linked to increased virulence of M. tuberculosis strains. Here, we show that a predicted total of 89 PE_PGRS/PPE-MPTR surface proteins are not exported by certain animal-adapted strains of the M. tuberculosis complex including M. bovis. This Δppe38/71-associated secretion defect therefore also occurs in the M. bovis-derived tuberculosis vaccine BCG and could be partially restored by introduction of the M. tuberculosis ppe38-locus. Epitope mapping of the PPE-MPTR protein PPE10, further allowed us to monitor T-cell responses in splenocytes from BCG/M. tuberculosis immunized mice, confirming the dependence of PPE10-specific immune-induction on ESX-5/PPE38-mediated secretion. Restoration of PE_PGRS/PPE-MPTR secretion in recombinant BCG neither altered global antigenic presentation or activation of innate immune cells, nor protective efficacy in two different mouse vaccination-infection models. This unexpected finding stimulates a reassessment of the immunomodulatory properties of PE_PGRS/PPE-MPTR proteins, some of which are contained in vaccine formulations currently in clinical evaluation.
Ates, L. S., Sayes, F., Frigui, W., Ummels, R., Damen, M. P. M., Bottai, D., ... Brosch, R. (2018). RD5-mediated lack of PE_PGRS and PPE-MPTR export in BCG vaccine strains results in strong reduction of antigenic repertoire but little impact on protection. PLoS Pathogens, 14(6), [e1007139]. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1007139