Antibodies to Variable Domain 4 Linear Epitopes of the Chlamydia trachomatis Major Outer Membrane Protein Are Not Associated with Chlamydia Resolution or Reinfection in Women

mSphere. 2020 Sep 23;5(5):e00654-20. doi: 10.1128/mSphere.00654-20.


Chlamydia trachomatis is an obligate intracellular bacterium. C. trachomatis infection is the most prevalent bacterial sexually transmitted infection and can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility in women. There is no licensed vaccine for C. trachomatis prevention, in part due to gaps in our knowledge of C. trachomatis-specific immune responses elicited during human infections. Previous investigations of the antibody response to C. trachomatis have identified immunodominant antigens and antibodies that can neutralize infection in cell culture. However, epitope-specific responses to C. trachomatis are not well characterized, and the impact of these antibodies on infection outcome is unknown. We recently developed a technology called deep sequence-coupled biopanning that uses bacteriophage virus-like particles to display peptides from antigens and affinity select against human serum IgG. Here, we used this technology to map C. trachomatis-specific antibodies in groups of women with defined outcomes following C. trachomatis infection: (i) C. trachomatis negative upon presentation for treatment ("spontaneous resolvers"), (ii) C. trachomatis negative at a 3-month follow-up visit after treatment ("nonreinfected"), and (iii) C. trachomatis positive at a 3-month follow-up after treatment ("reinfected"). This analysis yielded immunodominant epitopes that had been previously described but also identified new epitopes targeted by human antibody responses to C. trachomatis We focused on human antibody responses to the C. trachomatis variable domain 4 serovar-conserved region of the major outer membrane protein (VD4-MOMP), a previously described immunodominant epitope. All three groups of women produced IgG to the VD4-MOMP, suggesting that detection of serum antibodies to VD4-MOMP in women with urogenital C. trachomatis infection is not associated with protection against reinfection.IMPORTANCEC. trachomatis infection is the most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection, and infection in women can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility. No licensed vaccine exists to prevent C. trachomatis infection, and investigations of the natural immune response may inform the design of targeted vaccines for C. trachomatis Our study fills a gap in knowledge regarding the epitope specificity of antibody responses that are elicited in response to C. trachomatis infection in women. We identified several new B cell epitopes for C. trachomatis antigens and confirmed B cell epitopes that have been identified by other methods. Our finding that women produce antibodies to the VD4-MOMP regardless of infection outcome provides insight into vaccine development, suggesting that vaccines targeting VD4-MOMP may need to elicit higher-titer antibody responses than natural infection imparts or that additional vaccine targets should be pursued in the future.

Keywords: Chlamydia; VLP; affinity selection; antibody; bacteriophage; biopanning; epitope; vaccine; virus-like particle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Bacterial / blood*
  • Antigens, Bacterial / immunology
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / immunology
  • Bacteriophages
  • Chlamydia Infections / immunology*
  • Chlamydia trachomatis / immunology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Epitope Mapping
  • Epitopes, B-Lymphocyte / immunology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunodominant Epitopes / immunology
  • Peptide Library
  • Porins / immunology*
  • Reinfection
  • Young Adult


  • Antibodies, Bacterial
  • Antigens, Bacterial
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins
  • Epitopes, B-Lymphocyte
  • Immunodominant Epitopes
  • Peptide Library
  • Porins
  • omp1 protein, Chlamydia trachomatis