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Vaccine development against Neisseria meningitidis

Authors


E-mail uvogel@hygiene.uni-wuerzburg.de; Tel. (+49) 931 201 46802; Fax (+49) 931 201 46445.

Summary

Meningococcal disease is communicable by close contact or droplet aerosols. Striking features are high case fatality rates and peak incidences of invasive disease in infants, toddlers and adolescents. Vaccine development is hampered by bacterial immune evasion strategies including molecular mimicry. As for Haemophilus influenzae and Streptococcus pneumoniae, no vaccine has therefore been developed that targets all serogroups of Neisseria meningitidis. Polysaccharide vaccines available both in protein conjugated and non-conjugated form, have been introduced against capsular serogroups A, C, W-135 and Y, but are ineffective against serogroup B meningococci, which cause a significant burden of disease in many parts of the world. Detoxified outer membrane vesicles are used since decades to elicit protection against epidemic serogroup B disease. Genome mining and biochemical approaches have provided astounding progress recently in the identification of immunogenic, yet reasonably conserved outer membrane proteins. As subcapsular proteins nevertheless are unlikely to immunize against all serogroup B variants, thorough investigation by surrogate assays and molecular epidemiology approaches are needed prior to introduction and post-licensure of protein vaccines. Research currently addresses the analysis of life vaccines, meningococcus B polysaccharide modifications and mimotopes, as well as the use of N. lactamica outer membrane vesicles.

Introduction

Neisseria meningitidis, the meningococcus, is a Gram-negative bacterium belonging to the β-proteobacteria. The species' natural habitat is the human nasopharynx. Animal or environmental habitats are unknown. Asymptomatic colonization of the retropharyngeal wall and the tonsils is observed at high frequency in the second decade of life with a maximum in young adulthood (Claus et al., 2005; Caugant et al., 2007). Carriage frequencies have been scarcely studied in elder individuals. In one Norwegian study, carriage rates of male, but not of female subjects in the third and fourth decade of life were comparable to the high rates in adolescents (Kristiansen et al., 1988). Transmission is dependent on close contact between individuals or exposure to droplet aerosols.

Neisseria meningitidis is closely related to the pathogenic species N. gonorrhoeae, a sexually transmitted organism, and to the commensal N. lactamica, which colonizes the same niche as meningococci and exchanges DNA therewith (Linz et al., 2000). Neisseria lactamica may provide protection against invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) (Coen et al., 2000).

Genome sequences have been published for several strains of N. meningitidis (Parkhill et al., 2000; Tettelin et al., 2000; Bentley et al., 2007; Peng et al., 2008; Schoen et al., 2008). In total, the NCBI genome resource lists 38 neisserial genome projects, which are either in progress or already completed. Genome sequences provide an invaluable repository for phylogenetic analyses, studies on the evolution of virulence, and of course for mining for vaccine targets.

The major pathogenicity factor of meningococci is the polysaccharide capsule. The ecological role of capsule expression is unclear, as unencapsulated strains thrive well in the nasopharynx. Furthermore, IMD is an accident during the bacterium's life cycle and may be considered as an evolutionary dead-end implying costs only acceptable to very fit lineages of the species (Buckee et al., 2008). The capsule possibly provides protection against desiccation during aerosol transmission. Furthermore, one might suggest that it protects the bacteria during colonization of inflamed mucosal tissue. However, the identification of apathogenic capsule null locus (cnl) meningococci proofs that meningococci might well proliferate in the population without capsule expression (Claus et al., 2002).

There are 12 biochemically distinct capsular polysaccharides. Serogroups B, C, W-135 and Y, which are frequently observed in IMD, contain N-acetyl-neuraminic acid (Neu5Ac, sialic acid) (Bhattacharjee et al., 1975; 1976). Serogroup A, a major cause of epidemics in Africa, expresses a capsule of (→6)-α−d-ManpNAc-(1→OPO3→) (Bundle et al., 1974). The α(2–8) linked sialic acid homopolymer of serogroup B is identical to a modification of the mammalian neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM) (Toikka et al., 1998), which explains why the serogroup B polysaccharide is poorly immunogenic. The serogroup B polysaccharide is structurally related to the serogroup C polysaccharide, an α(2–9) linked sialic acid homopolymer (Bhattacharjee et al., 1975). This polysaccharide and those found in serogroup A, W-135 and Y meningococci are highly immunogenic. W-135 and Y meningococci express heteropolymeric polysaccharides composed of disaccharide units of sialic acid with either galactose or glucose respectively. The capsule polymerases of serogroups W-135 and Y are more than 99% identical (Claus et al., 1997) with a single amino acid determining substrate specificity (Claus et al., 2009). Serogroup A, C, W-135 and Y polysaccharides can be modified by O-acetylation (Jennings et al., 1977; Michon et al., 2000; Claus et al., 2004; Gudlavalleti et al., 2004). O-acetylated polysaccharide formulations of serogroup C were shown to elicit slightly lower antibody responses than de-O-acetylated ones, but this may also be an effect of the carrier protein of the polysaccharide, the conjugation chemistry and the length of the oligosaccharide (Richmond et al., 2001). O-acetylation is mandatory for immunogenicity of serogroup A polysaccharide (Berry et al., 2002). Serogroup X meningococci have recently emerged in Africa (Djibo et al., 2003), but do not yet play a global role.

Serogroup distribution varies on a global scale (Stephens, 2007), which makes it necessary to adapt vaccine strategies to regional needs. Whereas in Europe serogroups B and C dominate, serogroup Y plays an additional role in Northern America. Devastating epidemics due to serogroup A meningococci are observed in the African Meningitis Belt. Figure 1 demonstrates the serogroup distribution in Germany as an example. Of note, in contrast to several other European countries, meningococcus C (MenC) conjugate vaccination has been implemented in Germany quite late in 2006 and without a catch-up campaign including adolescents. Therefore, serogroup C still plays a significant role.

Figure 1.

Frequency of serogroups in invasive meningococcal disease in Germany (2002–09). Data were obtained from the database of the German Reference Laboratory for Meningococci at the University of Würzburg.

Incidences of meningococcal disease, i.e. sepsis and meningitis, in Europe and Northern America are low with values undulating around 1 per 100 000 inhabitants per year. Peak incidences are seen in infants, toddlers and adolescents, explaining the need for childhood vaccination programs. Figure 2 exemplifies age-specific incidences using Germany as an example. The figure highlights differences between serogroup B and C. The low incidences of meningococcal disease provide a challenge for vaccine evaluation, because vaccine efficacy cannot be established in clinical trials and surrogates of protection need to be relied on before licensure.

Figure 2.

Age-specific incidence of IMD in Germany (2001–09). Data were obtained from the Robert Koch-Institute, Berlin: SurvStat@RKI, http://www3.rki.de/survstat, data status as of 13 January 2010.

Meningococci exchange DNA by genetic transformation and homologous recombination. Recombination and selection shape clonal complexes, which are groups of related genotypes (Achtman and Wagner, 2008). Successful clonal complexes have been shown to be distributed internationally and to persist for decades (Caugant et al., 1986). Members of a clonal complex tend to share alleles of immunogenic outer membrane proteins (Urwin et al., 2004). Nevertheless, immune selection drives forward an extensive microevolution of surface antigens (Thompson et al., 2003; Russell et al., 2004; Brehony et al., 2009), which must be considered a major obstacle for the development of protein based vaccines, as vaccines need to cover a major share of variants and immune-escape needs to be monitored.

Surveillance of meningococcal disease in many countries relies on statutory notification and a complementary active or passive laboratory surveillance program. Representative strain collections assembled by reference laboratories are a major resource for evaluation of protein based vaccines, because they can be used to study antigenic variability as well as susceptibility of strains towards bactericidal antibodies elicited by vaccines.

General problems faced in vaccine development

A universal meningococcal vaccine is lacking (Table 1). Due to molecular mimicry, serogroup B capsular polysaccharide is poorly immunogenic, and manufacturers have been deterred from polysaccharide vaccine development by theoretical considerations of autoimmunity and potential fetal damage. A recent population based study from Denmark, however, failed to exhibit evidence for autoimmunity elicited by natural meningococcus serogroup B (MenB) infection (Howitz et al., 2007).

Table 1.  Summary of vaccine concepts discussed.
Vaccine compositionIndicationStatusAdvantageDisadvantage
  1. OMV, outer membrane vesicle; GMO, genetically modified organism.

Polysaccharide vaccines
 Plain polysaccharideEpidemic controlOn the marketLow costUneffective in small children
Travel medicineEfficacyFor some serogroups booster doses are ineffective. No herd immunity.
Lab workers
 Protein conjugated polysaccharideRoutine toddler/infant/adolescent vaccinationMenC: on the marketElicit herd immunity (proven for MenC)Cost (for most preparations with the exception of the meningococcal A conjugate (PsA-TT) vaccine).
Epidemic controlMenACWY: on the market/close to be marketed/in clinical trialsEfficacy in infants and toddlersWaning immunity in young vaccinees
Travel medicineMenA: in clinical trialsMemory response
Lab workers
OMV approaches
 Tailor made (OMVs of epidemic clones)Epidemic controlPrograms have been introduced on several occasionsEffective control of MenB outbreaks and epidemicsSeveral doses required
Immunogenicity in small children may be unsatisfying.
Lack of cross-reactivity
Time consuming pre-clinical and clinical trials.
Poor antibody persistence.
 Multivalent PorA vaccinesBroad protection against meningococciIn clinical trialsTheoretically covers most strainsSome PorA variants are poorly immunogenic
 OMV from GMO expressing one or more recombinant minor antigens, in some cases in a PorA negative backgroundBroad protection against meningococciPre-clinicalMay confer protection against a large panel of strains
May avoid dominant effect of PorA
Pre-clinical and clinical assessment of protection may be a difficult issue with regard to in vivo expression of antigens
 OMV from N. lactamicaBroad protection against meningococciIn clinical trialsMay confer protection against diverse meningococcal lineages, however, probably by mechanisms independent of bactericidal antibodies.N. lactamica carriage in early childhood, which is likely to confer protection against meningococci, might be affected.
Avoids dominant effect of PorA.
Subunit vaccines
 Genome derived recombinant multicomponent vaccineBroad protection against MenBIn clinical trialsCombination of several targets ensures targeting of many lineagesComplex design
Self-adjuvating effects of OMVs
 Factor H binding protein presented in two allelic variants as lipoproteinBroad protection against MenBIn clinical trialsTwo antigenic variants for broad coverageDepends on expression of factor H binding protein and the presence of cross-reactive alleles
Application of lipoprotein with self adjuvating effect
 Meningococcal secretomeBroad protection against meningococciAnimal modelsMany components may ensure broad coverageSecretome yet not completely deciphered
MenB capsule derived approaches
 N-propionylated polysaccharideBroad protection against MenBIn clinical trialsIndependent of antigenic variabilityTheoretically possible induction of autoantibodies
Poor induction of bactericidal antibodies in human volunteers
 de-N-acetylated polysaccharideBroad protection against MenBAnimal modelsIndependent of antigenic variabilityTheoretically possible induction of autoantibodies?
Induction of memory response
 MimotopeBroad protection against MenBAnimal modelsIndependent of antigenic variabilityTheoretically possible induction of autoantibodies?
Polysaccharide purification no longer needed
Live vaccine carriers
 S. gordonae expressing NadA and NhhA/HsfBroad protection against meningococciAnimal modelsUse of attenuated or commensal organismsRegulatory issues: Release of GMOs
Induction of colonizationNadA not present in every meningococcal lineage
Induction of IgA response towards NadA 
Natural immunization route 
Attenuated unencapsulated N. meningitidis strains (ΔsiaDΔrfaF or ΔsiaDΔmetH)Broad protection against meningococciAnimal modelsProtection of mice against heterologous strainsRegulatory issues: release of GMOs
Natural immunization route

Vaccine development against MenB is hampered by variability of surface antigens. Between 2002 and 2005 in Germany alone 33 and 69 variants of the PorA variable regions (VR) 1 and VR2, respectively, were observed (Elias et al., 2006). The meningococcal population is versatile and dynamic. There are emerging clones and lineages, and even neglected serogroups such as X may rise as a new problem as observed in Africa (Boisier et al., 2007).

Specific aspects need to be addressed during meningococcal vaccine development. Licensure of modern meningococcal vaccines is mostly based on safety data, serological correlates of protection, and – for MenB vaccines – strain coverage. Efficacy studies are mostly conducted after vaccine introduction due to the low incidence of disease. Strain coverage is assessed by the analysis of protein expression in a representative strain panel and by determination of the allelic diversity (Bambini et al., 2009; Lucidarme et al., 2009; Murphy et al., 2009). Serum bactericidal assays are a major effort for MenB vaccines, as in contrast to polysaccharide vaccines, several strains have to be tested. If proteins are used, which are not expressed under routine culture conditions, assay formats have to be adapted, which complicates assay standardization.

Furthermore, one has to consider that asymptomatic carriage is a double edged sword in light of vaccine development. The meningococcal serogroup C conjugate (MCC) vaccine campaign in the UK resulted in a reduction of carriage of a limited subset of strains (Maiden et al., 2008), which probably will not affect natural boosting massively. Broadly active meningococcal vaccines, however, might also reduce carriage of apathogenic meningococci, such as cnl meningococci (Claus et al., 2002), and of N. lactamica due to cross reactive antigens (Gold et al., 1978; Gorringe et al., 2009). Since it is likely that apathogenic strains contribute to natural immunity against disease, an ideal vaccine would rather not touch these variants or species. On the other hand, the vaccine should strongly impact carriage of pathogenic variants to provide for herd immunity as evidenced for polysaccharide conjugate vaccines (Trotter et al., 2008).

Meningococcal polysaccharide conjugate vaccine development

Several MCC vaccines have been licensed, which differ with regard to O-acetylation of the polysaccharide, protein conjugate, conjugation chemistry and adjuvant. The vaccines are considered as safe (Pollabauer et al., 2005). The UK in 1999 introduced MCC vaccines, which was highly successful and as an added value provided striking scientific knowledge. The efficacy of the vaccines was about 90%. However, there was an age-dependent decline of efficacy over time following vaccination (Snape et al., 2005; 2006; Borrow and Miller, 2006). This finding led to the recommendation of a booster vaccination in the infant immunization schedule (Trotter et al., 2004). Maintenance of protective titres seems to be essential as the time required for an effective booster response elicited by acquisition of a MenC strain probably exceeds the incubation period (Auckland et al., 2006). The success of the vaccination campaign was in large parts due to the fact that herd immunity was elicited (Ramsay et al., 2003; Trotter et al., 2006). Herd immunity depended on mucosal immunity towards MenC carriage in the UK, which was considerably reduced (Maiden and Stuart, 2002; Maiden et al., 2008). Vaccination of adolescents is most effective in this regard, as carriage rates of meningococci increase in the second decade of life (Claus et al., 2005). One might have speculated that rates of serogroup switching (genetic alteration of a clone) or replacement (increased occurrence of a variant not expressing the vaccine antigen), which have been shown for meningococci on several occasions (Vogel et al., 2000), will increase under selective pressure induced by vaccination campaigns (Maiden and Spratt, 1999). However, the UK disease surveillance did not evidence for increased serogroup switching and replacement (Balmer et al., 2002; Maiden et al., 2008). The occurrence of serogroup switch variants was reported for Spain (Cano et al., 2004). It is unclear whether this observation was due to a different vaccine introduction strategy.

The success of MCC stimulated the introduction and development of novel MenACWY conjugate vaccines (Keyserling et al., 2005; Snape et al., 2008; Ostergaard et al., 2009) and also of combinations of conjugated meningococcal polysaccharide with other components, such as the H. influenzae type b polysaccharide (Borrow et al., 2010). The serological data published until now for tetravalent polysaccharide vaccines are promising; instruments to control MenACWY disease seem to be available now. However, data are needed on the induction of herd immunity. Of interest is further the development of a serogroup A conjugate vaccine by the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP) and collaborating agencies (Kshirsagar et al., 2007; LaForce et al., 2007), which hopefully will provide a solution to the devastating serogroup A epidemics in the African meningitis belt.

Subcapsular vaccine targets

There is a variety of highly immunogenic structures in the outer membrane, which serve as possible vaccine components. A catalogue has been published recently (Feavers and Pizza, 2009) that categorizes possible candidates as major outer membrane proteins, iron uptake proteins, adhesins, other virulence factors, antigens with unknown function or those involved in membrane architecture, and enzymes. Major outer membrane proteins such as porins are expressed at high amounts (Frasch and Gotschlich, 1974). Other proteins are repressed under in vitro culture conditions, but can be observed, e.g. after iron depletion (Grifantini et al., 2003). Outer membrane proteins frequently are hard to express or purify in native conformation, so that alternative strategies have to be employed such as the production of outer membrane vesicles (OMVs) (Bjune et al., 1991; Sierra et al., 1991; de Moraes et al., 1992). A variety of lipidated proteins have been described as possible meningococcal vaccine antigens (Fletcher et al., 2004; Delgado et al., 2007; Hsu et al., 2008), which are attractive due to their self-adjuvanting activity.

Besides the induction of bactericidal antibodies, which activate serum complement resulting in bacterial cell death, antibodies against some targets block their function. Some monoclonal antibodies against the meningococcal factor H binding protein (FHBP) bind in close proximity to the factor H binding site and block factor H binding (Beernink and Granoff, 2009). Although the structure of FHBP has been resolved (Cantini et al., 2009; Mascioni et al., 2009; Schneider et al., 2009), precise binding sites of antibodies elicited in vaccinees have not been reported to our knowledge.

Proteins involved in iron uptake have been investigated intensively for their vaccine potential. The transferrin binding protein TbpA and even more so the TbpB are immunogenic and protect mice from meningococcal challenge, e.g. when delivered as recombinant antigen (West et al., 2001). Antigenic variability has to be considered for Tbps, and it has been shown for TbpB that there are two families or isotypes with isotype I being shared between sequence type 11 meningococci and apathogenic species (Harrison et al., 2008).

Proteins abundantly present on the meningococcal cell are easily accessible by bactericidal antibodies. However, harsh immune selection may trigger immune escape variants, generated by meningococci through horizontal gene transfer (Feavers et al., 1992). It has been suggested that overexpression of poorly expressed minor proteins in a PorA negative genetic background has a synergistic effect by augmenting the topical concentration of bactericidal antibodies on the bacteria above threshold values critical for complement activation (Weynants et al., 2007).

Besides protein antigens, lipopolysaccharide (LPS) has been considered a possible immunogen active against MenB (Weynants et al., 2009). LPS has self-adjuvant activity, but is toxic. Assays have been developed to study the biological effects of LPS in OMVs (Stoddard et al., 2010). Detoxification of LPS in OMV preparations is delicate, as detergent extraction also reduces the amount of immunogenic lipoproteins. LpxL1 mutants impaired in lipid A acylation were shown to retain adjuvant effects while being less toxic (van der Ley et al., 2001). Lipid A acylation mutants therefore provide a solution to the toxicity of OMVs.

To combat a regional epidemic, tailor-made meningococcal vaccines have been developed, which are OMVs derived from the epidemic strain (Holst et al., 2005). The immunodominant antigen of OMVs is the porin A (PorA). Tailor-made vaccines have been used in Norway, Chile, Cuba and New Zealand (Bjune et al., 1991; Sierra et al., 1991; de Moraes et al., 1992; Oster et al., 2005). These vaccines in general have to be delivered in three to four doses. The antibody response increases with age, as does the cross-reactivity towards strains with differing antigens. It is debatable whether strain-specific OMV vaccines have the practical potential to be developed in a flexible fashion in analogy to annual influenza vaccine preparations. Nevertheless, they have proven to be effective in New Zealand (Kelly et al., 2007) recently and have been introduced in the Normandie to combat an outbreak of MenB disease (Rouaud et al., 2006).

Up to nine different PorA variants are included in OMV preparations by recombinant technology in order to increase the theoretical strain coverage (van Alphen and van den Dobbelsteen, 2008). Outer membrane vesicles have also been used as vehicles to present other recombinant antigens in native conformation (Hou et al., 2005; Weynants et al., 2007). Finally, OMVs are added to the present formulation of the Novartis investigational vaccine (Rinaudo et al., 2009).

Outer membrane vesicles of N. lactamica, which lacks the immuno-dominant PorA protein, are in development (Oliver et al., 2002; Gorringe et al., 2009). Interestingly, these vaccines seem to only poorly elicit bactericidal antibodies, but protect mice from bacterial challenge, probably by augmenting opsonophagocytosis (Finney et al., 2008). In a phase I clinical trial the vaccine as well displayed a stronger effect on opsonophagocytosis than on bactericidal antibody concentrations, which was rather low (Gorringe et al., 2009).

Subunit vaccines containing recombinant meningococcal proteins now play a prominent role in the field of investigational vaccines for meningococci. The groundbreaking approach of ‘reverse vaccinology’ demonstrates how genome research results in potential products (Rinaudo et al., 2009), and along the way enhances the understanding of meningococcal pathogenicity (Pizza et al., 2000; Comanducci et al., 2002; du-Bobie et al., 2004). Predicted surface exposed proteins were tested for immunogenicity. Consecutively, it was investigated whether the proteins elicited bactericidal antibodies. Finally, a broadly reactive subunit vaccine was designed of recombinant proteins partly presented as fusion proteins (Giuliani et al., 2006). One of the proteins is FHBP, previously referred to as GNA1870 (Madico et al., 2006), a regulator of the complement cascade. Recruitment of factor H on the bacterial surface blocks consecutive complement activation. Wyeth, also identified FHBP as a vaccine target using biochemical approaches (Fletcher et al., 2004; Pillai et al., 2005; McNeil et al., 2009). The protein was designated LP2086 and is included in two antigenic lipoprotein variants in the investigational vaccine.

Alternative concepts

The MenB polysaccharide, a poor antigen eliciting low affinity antibodies, has been modified by N-propionylation to reduce cross-reactivity towards human glycosylated proteins and augment immunogenicity (Jennings et al., 1987; Ashton et al., 1989; Fusco et al., 1997). Unfortunately, N-propionylated polysaccharides elicited antibodies cross-reactive with human α-2,8-linked polysialic acid, the glycosylation of the neural cell adhesion molecule NCAM (Granoff et al., 1998). Furthermore, a human trial with an N-propionylated MenB capsular polysaccharide conjugated to tetanus toxoid was dissatisfying, because the vaccine did not elicit functional antibodies (Bruge et al., 2004). Another MenB polysaccharide modification currently tested in animal models is de-N-acetyl MenB polysaccharide (Moe et al., 2009). Removing N-acetyl groups at the non-reducing end of the polysaccharide obviously stimulates T cell help and supports the induction of IgG in mice. The search for MenB polysaccharide modifications further stimulated the investigation of polysaccharide mimotopes, e.g. by screening phage display libraries with group B specific monoclonal antibodies lacking affinity to human polysialic acid (Shin et al., 2001; Park et al., 2004). Vaccination of mice with mimotopes resulted in bactericidal antibodies (Lo Passo et al., 2007).

Another concept pursued is the vaccination of animals with secreted proteins of meningococci obtained from cell- and vesicle-free supernatants (Li et al., 2009). The secretome of meningococci has been reviewed recently (van Ulsen and Tommassen, 2006). Li and colleagues (2009) suggest that secreted proteins partly stick to the outer membrane, thereby serving as targets for bactericidal antibodies.

Of interest is the investigation in animal models of attenuated meningococcal strains as live vaccines such as unencapsulated strains with the genotype ΔsiaDΔrfaF or ΔsiaDΔmetH (Li et al., 2004). Furthermore, Ciabattini and colleagues (2008) reported Streptococcus gordonii strains expressing the adhesin NadA (Comanducci et al., 2002) and the putative serum resistance modulator NhhA (Sjolinder et al., 2008), which induced the mucosal secretion of specific IgA in mice (Ciabattini et al., 2008). NadA is probably not the best choice for broad protection against meningococci, as it is not expressed in a variety of IMD-associated strains (Comanducci et al., 2004; Elias and Vogel, 2007; Lucidarme et al., 2009). Nevertheless, vaccination with live bacteria is an interesting issue to pursue. We suggest to consider also cnl meningococci, which are constitutively unencapsulated and widely present among healthy carriers (Claus et al., 2002; 2005). IMD caused by cnl meningococci is extremely rare. We reported one case in a severely immunocompromised patient (Vogel et al., 2004), who was the only cnl IMD case among more than 3400 cases investigated by the reference laboratory between 2002 and 2009. There are two further case reports of invasive disease due to cnl meningococci with one fatal case from Canada and three cases from Burkina Faso (Hoang et al., 2005; Findlow et al., 2007). There is evidence that cnl meningococci represent ancestors of meningococci (Schoen et al., 2008). Uptake of the capsule locus is possible in the laboratory (own unpublished observation), but unlikely to occur in nature based on genetic analysis of carrier isolates and theoretical consideration taking into account the size of the DNA fragment harbouring the capsule locus. Data are needed for the persistence of carriage of capsule null locus meningococci and the induction of bactericidal antibodies during carriage. Furthermore, the effect of live immunization practices on the population structure of the bacteria and natural boosting would need to be addressed.

Conclusions

The next years will see the introduction of conjugated meningococcus A vaccines in Africa, of new conjugated tetravalent vaccines, and hopefully also of the first broadly cross-reactive MenB vaccines. A variety of MenB protein vaccine candidates with possibly broad cross-reactivity also among other serogrups are under investigation, with the ones using the FHBP being advanced farthest. It is difficult to provide an estimate of the potential coverage of FHBP vaccines due to geographic effects, the unknown impact of carriage, and the unknown velocity and effectiveness of immune escape once effective herd immunity has been established. Many questions will only be answered after licensure, and one may assume that the first generation of universal MenB protein vaccines will be a starting point of continuous development. For sure, MenB vaccines might affect the population structure of the bacteria and consequently the development of natural immunity. Therefore, carriage studies are necessary, as well as an effective post-licensure surveillance of disease. The integration of various players during MenB vaccine development and introduction is summarized in Fig. 3.

Figure 3.

Development of meningococcal vaccines and depiction of the interaction between research institutions, industry and the public health sector.

Acknowledgements

We thank the Federal Ministry of Education and Research for Funding via the ERA-NET Pathogenomics (Project No. 10) and the Robert Koch Institute for funding the German Reference Laboratory for Meningococci. The publication made use of data from the Robert Koch-Institute, Berlin (Germany): SurvStat@RKI, http://www3.rki.de/survstat, data status as of 13 January 2010.

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