Background: Recombinant KSAC and L110f are promising Leishmania vaccine candidates. Both antigens formulated in stable emulsions (SE) with the natural TLR4 agonist MPL® and L110f with the synthetic TLR4 agonist GLA in SE protected BALB/c mice against L. major infection following needle challenge. Considering the virulence of vector-transmitted Leishmania infections, we vaccinated BALB/c mice with either KSAC+GLA-SE or L110f+GLA-SE to assess protection against L. major transmitted via its vector Phlebotomus duboscqi.
Methods: Mice receiving the KSAC or L110f vaccines were challenged by needle or L. major-infected sand flies. Weekly disease progression and terminal parasite loads were determined. Immunological responses to KSAC, L110f, or soluble Leishmania antigen (SLA) were assessed throughout vaccination, three and twelve weeks after immunization, and one week post-challenge.
Results: Following sand fly challenge, KSAC-vaccinated mice were protected while L110f-vaccinated animals showed partial protection. Protection correlated with the ability of SLA to induce IFN-γ-producing CD4(+)CD62L(low)CCR7(low) effector memory T cells pre- and post-sand fly challenge.
Conclusions: This study demonstrates the protective efficacy of KSAC+GLA-SE against sand fly challenge; the importance of vector-transmitted challenge in evaluating vaccine candidates against Leishmania infection; and the necessity of a rapid potent Th1 response against Leishmania to attain true protection.