Experimental human challenge defines distinct pneumococcal kinetic profiles and mucosal responses between colonized and non-colonized adults

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Colonization of the upper respiratory tract with Streptococcus pneumoniae is the precursor of pneumococcal pneumonia and invasive disease. Following exposure, however, it is unclear which human immune mechanisms determine whether a pathogen will colonize. We used a human challenge model to investigate host-pathogen interactions in the first hours and days following intranasal exposure to Streptococcus pneumoniae. Using a novel home sampling method, we measured early immune responses and bacterial density dynamics in the nose and saliva after volunteers were experimentally exposed to pneumococcus. Here, we show that nasal colonization can take up to 24 h to become established. Also, the following two distinct bacterial clearance profiles were associated with protection: nasal clearers with immediate clearance of bacteria in the nose by the activity of pre-existent mucosal neutrophils and saliva clearers with detectable pneumococcus in saliva at 1 h post challenge and delayed clearance mediated by an inflammatory response and increased neutrophil activity 24 h post bacterial encounter. This study describes, for the first time, how colonization with a bacterium is established in humans, signifying that the correlates of protection against pneumococcal colonization, which can be used to inform design and testing of novel vaccine candidates, could be valid for subsets of protected individuals. IMPORTANCE: Occurrence of lower respiratory tract infections requires prior colonization of the upper respiratory tract with a pathogen. Most bacterial infection and colonization studies have been performed in murine and in vitro models due to the current invasive sampling methodology of the upper respiratory tract, both of which poorly reflect the complexity of host-pathogen interactions in the human nose. Self-collecting saliva and nasal lining fluid at home is a fast, low-cost, noninvasive, high-frequency sampling platform for continuous monitoring of bacterial encounter at defined time points relative to exposure. Our study demonstrates for the first time that, in humans, there are distinct profiles of pneumococcal colonization kinetics, distinguished by speed of appearance in saliva, local phagocytic function, and acute mucosal inflammatory responses, which may either recruit or activate neutrophils. These data are important for the design and testing of novel vaccine candidates.
Nikolaou E, Jochems SP., Mitsi E, Pojar S, Blizard A, Reiné J, et al. Experimental human challenge defines distinct pneumococcal kinetic profiles and mucosal responses between colonized and non-colonized adults. mBio. 2021 Jan;12(1):e02020-20. doi:10.1128/mBio.02020-20.
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