With many protective vaccine antigens reported in the literature and verified experimentally, how to use the knowledge mined from these antigens to support rational vaccine design and study underlying design mechanism remains unclear. In order to address the problem, a systematic bioinformatics analysis was performed on 291 Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacterial protective antigens with experimental evidence manually curated in the Protegen database. The bioinformatics analyses evaluated included subcellular localization, adhesin probability, peptide signaling, transmembrane α-helix and β-barrel, conserved domain, Clusters of Orthologous Groups, and Gene Ontology functional annotations. Here we showed the critical role of adhesins, along with subcellular localization, peptide signaling, in predicting secreted extracellular or surface-exposed protective antigens, with mechanistic explanations supported by functional analysis. We also found a significant negative correlation of transmembrane α-helix to antigen protectiveness in Gram-positive and Gram-negative pathogens, while a positive correlation of transmembrane β-barrel was observed in Gram-negative pathogens. The commonly less-focused cytoplasmic and cytoplasmic membrane proteins could be potentially predicted with the help of other selection criteria such as adhesin probability and functional analysis. The significant findings in this study can support rational vaccine design and enhance our understanding of vaccine design mechanisms.
Keywords: adhesin probability; conserved domains; functional analysis; protective antigen; reverse vaccinology; subcellular localization; transmembrane proteins; vaccine design.