Drug-cured experimental Trypanosoma cruzi infections confer long-lasting and cross-strain protection.
Mann GS., Francisco AF., Jayawardhana S., Taylor MC., Lewis MD., Olmo F., de Freitas EO., Leoratti FMS., López-Camacho C., Reyes-Sandoval A., Kelly JM.
BACKGROUND: The long term and complex nature of Chagas disease in humans has restricted studies on vaccine feasibility. Animal models also have limitations due to technical difficulties in monitoring the extremely low parasite burden that is characteristic of chronic stage infections. Advances in imaging technology offer alternative approaches that circumvent these problems. Here, we describe the use of highly sensitive whole body in vivo imaging to assess the efficacy of recombinant viral vector vaccines and benznidazole-cured infections to protect mice from challenge with Trypanosoma cruzi. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Mice were infected with T. cruzi strains modified to express a red-shifted luciferase reporter. Using bioluminescence imaging, we assessed the degree of immunity to re-infection conferred after benznidazole-cure. Those infected for 14 days or more, prior to the onset of benznidazole treatment, were highly protected from challenge with both homologous and heterologous strains. There was a >99% reduction in parasite burden, with parasites frequently undetectable after homologous challenge. This level of protection was considerably greater than that achieved with recombinant vaccines. It was also independent of the route of infection or size of the challenge inoculum, and was long-lasting, with no significant diminution in immunity after almost a year. When the primary infection was benznidazole-treated after 4 days (before completion of the first cycle of intracellular infection), the degree of protection was much reduced, an outcome associated with a minimal T. cruzi-specific IFN-γ+ T cell response. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Our findings suggest that a protective Chagas disease vaccine must have the ability to eliminate parasites before they reach organs/tissues, such as the GI tract, where once established, they become largely refractory to the induced immune response.