Low dose vaccination with attenuated Francisella tularensis strain SchuS4 mutants protects against tularemia independent of the route of vaccination

PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e37752. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037752. Epub 2012 May 25.


Tularemia, caused by the gram-negative bacterium Francisella tularensis, is a severe, sometimes fatal disease. Interest in tularemia has increased over the last decade due to its history as a biological weapon. In particular, development of novel vaccines directed at protecting against pneumonic tularemia has been an important goal. Previous work has demonstrated that, when delivered at very high inoculums, administration of live, highly attenuated strains of virulent F. tularensis can protect against tularemia. However, lower vaccinating inoculums did not offer similar immunity. One concern of using live vaccines is that the host may develop mild tularemia in response to infection and use of high inoculums may contribute to this issue. Thus, generation of a live vaccine that can efficiently protect against tularemia when delivered in low numbers, e.g. <100 organisms, may address this concern. Herein we describe the ability of three defined, attenuated mutants of F. tularensis SchuS4, deleted for FTT0369c, FTT1676, or FTT0369c and FTT1676, respectively, to engender protective immunity against tularemia when delivered at concentrations of approximately 50 or fewer bacteria. Attenuated strains for use as vaccines were selected by their inability to efficiently replicate in macrophages in vitro and impaired replication and dissemination in vivo. Although all strains were defective for replication in vitro within macrophages, protective efficacy of each attenuated mutant was correlated with their ability to modestly replicate and disseminate in the host. Finally, we demonstrate the parenteral vaccination with these strains offered superior protection against pneumonic tularemia than intranasal vaccination. Together our data provides proof of principle that low dose attenuated vaccines may be a viable goal in development of novel vaccines directed against tularemia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Vaccines / administration & dosage*
  • Bacterial Vaccines / immunology
  • Female
  • Francisella tularensis / genetics
  • Francisella tularensis / immunology*
  • Francisella tularensis / pathogenicity
  • Lethal Dose 50
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mutation
  • Tularemia / mortality
  • Tularemia / prevention & control*
  • Vaccines, Attenuated / administration & dosage
  • Vaccines, Attenuated / immunology
  • Virulence / genetics


  • Bacterial Vaccines
  • Vaccines, Attenuated