The objective of the present study was to analyze an extracellular component from Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), which we refer to as slime associated antigenic complex (SAAC), and to investigate the role of SAAC-specific antibody production in protection from S. aureus bovine mastitis. Twelve primiparous gestating cows were randomly assigned to one of the three groups: Group 1 was vaccinated with a S. aureus bacterin with very limited SAAC content; Group 2 received a S. aureus bacterin with high SAAC content and Group 3 served as unvaccinated controls. Animals were vaccinated at 45 days before the expected parturition date and revaccinated 35 days later. All groups were challenged by intramammary infusion with a virulent heterologous strain of S. aureus 23 days after calving. Antibody response against SAAC in serum and in milk, general clinical signs, mastitis score, somatic cell count (SCC) and count of S. aureus in milk were evaluated before and after challenge. Immunization with a high SAAC content in the S. aureus bacterin (Group 2) significantly enhanced antibody titers against SAAC (in serum and milk) and reduced the S. aureus concentration in milk during the post-challenge period compared to Group 1 and Group 3. Moreover, a significant negative correlation was observed between SAAC antibody production on the day of the challenge and the S. aureus count in milk by 1 day after challenge. However, there was no evidence of a difference between vaccinated and control groups with regard to clinical signs of mastitis following the challenge. Nevertheless, the SAAC antibody concentration on the day of the challenge negatively correlated with the mastitis score in quarters infected with S. aureus at 2 days post-challenge. These results indicate that the vaccines did not prevent S. aureus intramammary infection (IMI) after the experimental challenge, but immunization with a S. aureus bacterin with high SAAC content was able to reduce S. aureus multiplication in the mammary gland after challenge and suggests that the SAAC-specific antibody response could be involved in the protection against S. aureus intramammary infection. Although further studies should be performed to confirm the efficacy (under experimental conditions and in field trials), we propose bacterins from strong biofilm-producing bacteria and with high SAAC content, rather than with limited SAAC content, as a cost-efficient vaccine design against S. aureus bovine mastitis.
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