Identification of Immunogenic Linear B-Cell Epitopes in C. burnetii Outer Membrane Proteins Using Immunoinformatics Approaches Reveals Potential Targets of Persistent Infections

Pathogens. 2021 Sep 28;10(10):1250. doi: 10.3390/pathogens10101250.


Coxiella burnetii is a global, highly infectious intracellular bacterium, able to infect a wide range of hosts and to persist for months in the environment. It is the etiological agent of Q fever-a zoonosis of global priority. Currently, there are no national surveillance data on C. burnetii's seroprevalence for any South American country, reinforcing the necessity of developing novel and inexpensive serological tools to monitor the prevalence of infections among humans and animals-especially cattle, goats, and sheep. In this study, we used immunoinformatics and computational biology tools to predict specific linear B-cell epitopes in three C. burnetii outer membrane proteins: OMP-H (CBU_0612), Com-1 (CBU_1910), and OMP-P1 (CBU_0311). Furthermore, predicted epitopes were tested by ELISA, as synthetic peptides, against samples of patients reactive to C. burnetii in indirect immunofluorescence assay, in order to evaluate their natural immunogenicity. In this way, two linear B-cell epitopes were identified in each studied protein (OMP-H(51-59), OMP-H(91-106), Com-1(57-76), Com-1(191-206), OMP-P1(197-209), and OMP-P1(215-227)); all of them were confirmed as naturally immunogenic by the presence of specific antibodies in 77% of studied patients against at least one of the identified epitopes. Remarkably, a higher frequency of endocarditis cases was observed among patients who presented an intense humoral response to OMP-H and Com-1 epitopes. These data confirm that immunoinformatics applied to the identification of specific B-cell epitopes can be an effective strategy to improve and accelerate the development of surveillance tools against neglected diseases.

Keywords: B-cell epitope; Q fever; immunoinformatics; serodiagnosis; synthetic peptides.