Engineering of a Human Vaginal Lactobacillus Strain for Surface Expression of Two-Domain CD4 Molecules
Laurel A. Lagenaur,
Peter P. Lee
Women are at significant risk of heterosexually transmitted human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, with the mucosal epithelium of the cervix and vagina serving as a major portal of entry. The cervicovaginal mucosa naturally harbors dynamic microflora composed predominantly of lactobacilli, which may be genetically modified to serve as a more efficient protective barrier against the heterosexual transmission of HIV. We selected a vaginal strain of Lactobacillus, L. jensenii 1153, for genetic modification to display surface-anchored anti-HIV proteins. Genomic sequencing analyses revealed that L. jensenii 1153 encodes several unique high-molecular-weight cell wall-anchored proteins with a C-terminal cell wall sorting LPQTG motif. In this report, we employed these proteins to express a surface-anchored two-domain CD4 (2D CD4) molecule in L. jensenii 1153. Our studies indicated that the C-terminal cell wall sorting signal LPQTG motif alone is insufficient to drive the surface expression of heterologous proteins, and the display of surface-anchored 2D CD4 molecules required native sequences of a defined length upstream of the unique C-terminal LPQTG cell wall sorting signal and the positively charged C terminus in a Lactobacillus-based expression system. The modified L. jensenii strain displayed 2D CD4 molecules that were uniformly distributed on bacterial surfaces. The surface-anchored 2D CD4 molecule was recognized by a conformation-dependent anti-CD4 antibody, suggesting that the expressed proteins adopted a native conformation. The establishment of this Lactobacillus-based surface expression system, with potential broad applicability, represents a major step toward developing an inexpensive yet durable approach to topical microbicides for the mitigation of heterosexual transmission of HIV and other mucosally transmitted viral pathogens.