A major goal of gonococcal research is the development of a gonorrheal vaccine. A vaccine candidate is the major outer membrane protein (PI) of the gonococcus, which has limited antigenic variability. Two main subtypes, PIA and PIB, and nine main serotypes have been described. To avoid raising anti-protein III (PIII)-blocking antibodies and limit potential lipooligosaccharide toxicity, PI was chromatographically isolated with minimal PIII contamination (less than 1%) from Pgh 3-2 (PIB), a serum-sensitive gonococcal strain and UU1 (PIA), a serum-resistant gonococcal strain. Alum was used as an adjuvant and the antibodies raised in rabbits did not agglutinate the organisms, were not opsonic, and bactericidal titers were not increased. To present PI in a form mimicking its in vivo disposition, it was inserted into liposomes. The resulting antisera did agglutinate the organism and contained opsonic and bactericidal activity greater than the preimmune sera or alum-generated sera. The PIB liposome antisera also had higher ELISA titers to a synthetic peptide equivalent to an exposed portion of PIB and a higher percentage of antibodies absorbed by whole organisms than the PIB alum antisera. We speculate that when PI is presented in liposomes, the antibodies raised are mainly to surface-exposed epitopes of the protein as opposed to when PI is presented absorbed to alum, where the antibodies are produced mainly to buried epitopes.

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