Role of Evolutionary Selection Acting on Vaccine Antigens in the Re-Emergence of Bordetella Pertussis

Diseases. 2019 Apr 16;7(2):35. doi: 10.3390/diseases7020035.


Pertussis ("whooping cough") is a re-emerging disease with increasing incidence among fully vaccinated individuals. We explored the genetic diversity of five Bordetella pertussis proteins used to generate the subunit vaccine across ancestral and newly emergent strains using immunoinformatics and evolutionary selection measurements. The five subunits of pertussis toxin (Ptx1⁻Ptx5) were highly conserved with regard to sequence, predicted structure, predicted antigenicity, and were under purifying selection. In contrast, the adhesin proteins pertactin (Prn) and filamentous hemagglutinin (FHA) were under statistically significant (p < 0.01) diversifying selection. Most heavily diversified sites of each protein fell within antigenic epitopes, and the functional adhesin motifs were conserved. Protein secondary structure was conserved despite sequence diversity for FHA but was changeable in Prn. These findings suggest that subunit vaccine-derived immunity does not impact Ptx1⁻Ptx5 but may apply evolutionary pressure to Prn and FHA to undergo diversifying selection. These findings offer further insight into the emergence of vaccine-resistant strains of B. pertussis.

Keywords: Bordetella pertussis; FH; pertactin; pertussis; pertussis toxin; re-emerging disease; vaccine escape; whooping cough.