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Spotted fever group (SFG) rickettsial species are obligate intracellular tick-borne pathogens that are responsible for important human diseases. Previous reports have demonstrated the feasibility of using recombinant surface cell antigen Sca5/OmpB to elicit protective immunity against homologous challenges using murine models of Mediterranean spotted fever and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. In addition, the feasibility of generating cross-protective immunity against related rickettsial species has also been established, but the molecular basis for these phenomena was not explored. Here, we demonstrate that vaccination of C3H/HeN mice with a recombinant OmpB domain derived from Rickettsia conorii induced high titer humoral immune responses that are capable of recognizing the native OmpB protein at the R. rickettsii outer membrane, but this immunization was not sufficient to induce effective protective immunity. In contrast, animals vaccinated with a corresponding OmpB domain derived from R. rickettsii protected animals from fatal outcomes. These results demonstrate that vaccination with nearly identical antigens may not be an effective strategy to induce wide-ranging protective immunity against related SFG Rickettsia species.

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Pathogens and disease

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