Allué-Guardia, Anna, Juan I Garcia, and Jordi B Torrelles. (2021) 2021. “Evolution of Drug-Resistant Mycobacterium Tuberculosis Strains and Their Adaptation to the Human Lung Environment”. Frontiers in Microbiology 12: 612675.

In the last two decades, multi (MDR), extensively (XDR), extremely (XXDR) and total (TDR) drug-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M.tb) strains have emerged as a threat to public health worldwide, stressing the need to develop new tuberculosis (TB) prevention and treatment strategies. It is estimated that in the next 35 years, drug-resistant TB will kill around 75 million people and cost the global economy $16.7 trillion. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic alone may contribute with the development of 6.3 million new TB cases due to lack of resources and enforced confinement in TB endemic areas. Evolution of drug-resistant M.tb depends on numerous factors, such as bacterial fitness, strain's genetic background and its capacity to adapt to the surrounding environment, as well as host-specific and environmental factors. Whole-genome transcriptomics and genome-wide association studies in recent years have shed some insights into the complexity of M.tb drug resistance and have provided a better understanding of its underlying molecular mechanisms. In this review, we will discuss M.tb phenotypic and genotypic changes driving resistance, including changes in cell envelope components, as well as recently described intrinsic and extrinsic factors promoting resistance emergence and transmission. We will further explore how drug-resistant M.tb adapts differently than drug-susceptible strains to the lung environment at the cellular level, modulating M.tb-host interactions and disease outcome, and novel next generation sequencing (NGS) strategies to study drug-resistant TB.

Kock, Richard, Anita L Michel, Dorothy Yeboah-Manu, Esam I Azhar, Jordi B Torrelles, Simeon I Cadmus, Lucy Brunton, et al. (2021) 2021. “Zoonotic Tuberculosis - The Changing Landscape”. International Journal of Infectious Diseases : IJID : Official Publication of the International Society for Infectious Diseases 113 Suppl 1: S68-S72.

Despite slow reductions in the annual burden of active human tuberculosis (TB) cases, zoonotic TB (zTB) remains a poorly monitored and an important unaddressed global problem. There is a higher incidence in some regions and countries, especially where close association exists between growing numbers of cattle (the major source of Mycobacterium bovis) and people, many suffering from poverty, and where dairy products are consumed unpasteurised. More attention needs to be focused on possible increased zTB incidence resulting from growth in dairy production globally and increased demand in low income countries in particular. Evidence of new zoonotic mycobacterial strains in South Asia and Africa (e.g. M. orygis), warrants urgent assessment of prevalence, potential drivers and risk in order to develop appropriate interventions. Control of M. bovis infection in cattle through detect and cull policies remain the mainstay of reducing zTB risk, whilst in certain circumstances animal vaccination is proving beneficial. New point of care diagnostics will help to detect animal infections and human cases. Given the high burden of human tuberculosis (caused by M. tuberculosis) in endemic areas, animals are affected by reverse zoonosis, including multi-drug resistant strains. This, may create drug resistant reservoirs of infection in animals. Like COVID-19, zTB is evolving in an ever-changing global landscape.

Plante, Kenneth S, Varun Dwivedi, Jessica A Plante, Diana Fernandez, Divya Mirchandani, Nathen Bopp, Patricia Aguilar V, et al. (2021) 2021. “Antiviral Activity of Oleandrin and a Defined Extract of Nerium Oleander Against SARS-CoV-2”. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy = Biomedecine & Pharmacotherapie 138: 111457.

With continued expansion of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome 2 (SARS-CoV-2), both antiviral drugs as well as effective vaccines are desperately needed to treat patients at high risk of life-threatening disease. Here, we present in vitro evidence for significant inhibition of SARS-CoV-2 by oleandrin and a defined extract of N. oleander (designated as PBI-06150). Using Vero cells, we found that prophylactic (pre-infection) oleandrin (as either the pure compound or as the active principal ingredient in PBI-06150) administration at concentrations as low as 0.05 µg/ml exhibited potent antiviral activity against SARS-CoV-2, with an 800-fold reduction in virus production, and a 0.1 µg/ml concentration resulted in a greater than 3000-fold reduction in infectious virus production. The half maximal effective concentration (EC50) values were 11.98 ng/ml when virus output was measured at 24 h post-infection, and 7.07 ng/ml measured at 48 h post-infection. Therapeutic (post-infection) treatment up to 24 h after SARS-CoV-2 infection of Vero cells also reduced viral titers, with 0.1 µg/ml and 0.05 µg/ml concentrations causing greater than 100-fold reduction as measured at 48 h, and the 0.05 µg/ml concentration resulting in a 78-fold reduction. Concentrations of oleandrin up to 10 µg/ml were well tolerated in Vero cells. We also present in vivo evidence of the safety and efficacy of defined N. oleander extract (PBI-06150), which was administered to golden Syrian hamsters in a preparation containing as high as 130 µg/ml of oleandrin. In comparison to administration of control vehicle, PBI-06150 provided a statistically significant reduction of the viral titer in the nasal turbinates (nasal conchae). The potent prophylactic and therapeutic antiviral activities demonstrated here, together with initial evidence of its safety and efficacy in a relevant hamster model of COVID-19, support the further development of oleandrin and/or defined extracts containing this molecule for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2 and associated COVID-19 disease and potentially also for reduction of virus spread by persons diagnosed early after infection.

García, Juan Ignacio, Anna Allué-Guardia, Radhika P Tampi, Blanca I Restrepo, and Jordi B Torrelles. (2021) 2021. “New Developments and Insights in the Improvement of Mycobacterium Tuberculosis Vaccines and Diagnostics Within the End TB Strategy”. Current Epidemiology Reports 8 (2): 33-45.

Purpose of review: The alignment of sustainable development goals (SDGs) with the End Tuberculosis (TB) strategy provides an integrated roadmap to implement key approaches towards TB elimination. This review summarizes current social challenges for TB control, and yet, recent developments in TB diagnosis and vaccines in the context of the End TB strategy and SDGs to transform global health.

Recent findings: Advances in non-sputum based TB biomarkers and whole genome sequencing technologies could revolutionize TB diagnostics. Moreover, synergistic novel technologies such as mRNA vaccination, nanovaccines and promising TB vaccine models are key promising developments for TB prevention and control.

Summary: The End TB strategy depends on novel developments in point-of-care TB diagnostics and effective vaccines. However, despite outstanding technological developments in these fields, TB elimination will be unlikely achieved if TB social determinants are not fully addressed. Indeed, the End TB strategy and SDGs emphasize the importance of implementing sustainable universal health coverage and social protection.

Silvas, Jesus A, Desarey Morales Vasquez, Jun-Gyu Park, Kevin Chiem, Anna Allué-Guardia, Andreu Garcia-Vilanova, Roy Neal Platt, et al. (2021) 2021. “Contribution of SARS-CoV-2 Accessory Proteins to Viral Pathogenicity in K18 Human ACE2 Transgenic Mice”. Journal of Virology 95 (17): e0040221.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the viral pathogen responsible for the current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. As of 19 May 2021, John Hopkins University's COVID-19 tracking platform reported 3.3 million deaths associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection. Currently, the World Health Organization has granted emergency use listing (EUL) to six COVID-19 vaccine candidates. However, much of the pathogenesis observed during SARS-CoV-2 infection remains elusive. To gain insight into the contribution of individual accessory open reading frame (ORF) proteins in SARS-CoV-2 pathogenesis, we used our recently described reverse-genetics system approach to successfully engineer recombinant SARS-CoV-2 (rSARS-CoV-2) constructs; we removed individual viral ORF3a, -6, -7a, -7b, and -8 proteins from them, and we characterized the resulting recombinant viruses in vitro and in vivo. Our results indicate differences in plaque morphology, with ORF-deficient (ΔORF) viruses producing smaller plaques than those of the wild type (rSARS-CoV-2/WT). However, growth kinetics of ΔORF viruses were like those of rSARS-CoV-2/WT. Interestingly, infection of K18 human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (hACE2) transgenic mice with the ΔORF rSARS-CoV-2s identified ORF3a and ORF6 as the major contributors of viral pathogenesis, while ΔORF7a, ΔORF7b, and ΔORF8 rSARS-CoV-2s induced pathology comparable to that of rSARS-CoV-2/WT. This study demonstrates the robustness of our reverse-genetics system to generate rSARS-CoV-2 constructs and the major role for ORF3a and ORF6 in viral pathogenesis, providing important information for the generation of attenuated forms of SARS-CoV-2 for their implementation as live attenuated vaccines for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2 infection and associated COVID-19. IMPORTANCE Despite great efforts put forward worldwide to combat the current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) continues to be a human health and socioeconomic threat. Insights into the pathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2 and the contribution of viral proteins to disease outcome remain elusive. Our study aims (i) to determine the contribution of SARS-CoV-2 accessory open reading frame (ORF) proteins to viral pathogenesis and disease outcome and (ii) to develop a synergistic platform combining our robust reverse-genetics system to generate recombinant SARS-CoV-2 constructs with a validated rodent model of infection and disease. We demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 ORF3a and ORF6 contribute to lung pathology and ultimately disease outcome in K18 hACE2 transgenic mice, while ORF7a, ORF7b, and ORF8 have little impact on disease outcome. Moreover, our combinatory platform serves as a foundation for generating attenuated forms of the virus to develop live attenuated vaccines for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2.

Piergallini, Tucker J, Julia M Scordo, Paula A Pino, Larry S Schlesinger, Jordi B Torrelles, and Joanne Turner. (2021) 2021. “Acute Inflammation Confers Enhanced Protection Against Mycobacterium Tuberculosis Infection in Mice”. Microbiology Spectrum 9 (1): e0001621.

Inflammation plays a crucial role in the control of Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection. In this study, we demonstrate that an inflammatory pulmonary environment at the time of infection mediated by lipopolysaccharide treatment in mice confers enhanced protection against M. tuberculosis for up to 6 months postinfection. This early and transient inflammatory environment was associated with a neutrophil and CD11b+ cell influx and increased inflammatory cytokines. In vitro infection demonstrated that neutrophils from lipopolysaccharide-treated mice exhibited increased association with M. tuberculosis and had a greater innate capacity for killing M. tuberculosis. Finally, partial depletion of neutrophils in lipopolysaccharide-treated mice showed an increase in M. tuberculosis burden, suggesting neutrophils played a part in the protection observed in lipopolysaccharide-treated mice. These results indicate a positive role for an inflammatory environment in the initial stages of M. tuberculosis infection and suggest that acute inflammation at the time of M. tuberculosis infection can positively alter disease outcome. IMPORTANCE Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the causative agent of tuberculosis disease, is estimated to infect one-fourth of the world's population and is one of the leading causes of death due to an infectious disease worldwide. The high-level variability in tuberculosis disease responses in the human populace may be linked to immune processes related to inflammation. In many cases, inflammation appears to exasperate tuberculosis responses; however, some evidence suggests inflammatory processes improve control of M. tuberculosis infection. Here, we show an acute inflammatory stimulus in mice provides protection against M. tuberculosis for up to 6 months, suggesting acute inflammation can positively affect M. tuberculosis infection outcome.

Scordo, Julia M, Génesis P Aguillón-Durán, Doris Ayala, Ana Paulina Quirino-Cerrillo, Eminé Rodríguez-Reyna, Francisco Mora-Guzmán, Jose A Caso, et al. (2021) 2021. “A Prospective Cross-Sectional Study of Tuberculosis in Elderly Hispanics Reveals That BCG Vaccination at Birth Is Protective Whereas Diabetes Is Not a Risk Factor”. PloS One 16 (7): e0255194.

BACKGROUND: Aging increases the risk of tuberculosis (TB) and its adverse outcomes, but most studies are based on secondary analyses, and few are in Hispanics. Diabetes is a risk factor for TB in adults, but its contribution in the elderly is unknown. We aimed to identify the role of diabetes and other risk factors for TB in elderly Hispanics.

METHODS: Cross-sectional study among newly-diagnosed TB patients, recent contacts (ReC), or community controls (CoC) totaling 646 participants, including 183 elderly (>60 years; 43 TB, 80 ReC, 60 CoC) and 463 adults (18 to 50 years; 80 TB, 301 ReC and 82 CoC). Host characteristics associated with TB and latent Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection (LTBI) were identified in the elderly by univariable and confirmed by multivariable logistic regression.

RESULTS: LTBI was more prevalent among the elderly CoC (55% vs. 23.2% in adults; p<0.001), but not in ReC (elderly 71.3% vs. adult 63.8%); p = 0.213). Risk factors for TB in the elderly included male sex (adj-OR 4.33, 95% CI 1.76, 10.65), smoking (adj-OR 2.55, 95% CI 1.01, 6.45) and low BMI (adj-OR 12.34, 95% CI 4.44, 34.33). Unexpectedly, type 2 diabetes was not associated with TB despite its high prevalence (adj-OR 0.38, 95% CI 0.06, 2.38), and BCG vaccination at birth was protective (adj-OR 0.16, 95% CI 0.06, 0.45).

CONCLUSIONS: We report novel distinctions in TB risk factors in the elderly vs. adults, notably in diabetes and BCG vaccination at birth. Further studies are warranted to address disparities in this vulnerable, understudied population.

Park, Jun-Gyu, Fatai S Oladunni, Mohammed A Rohaim, Jayde Whittingham-Dowd, James Tollitt, Matthew D J Hodges, Nadin Fathallah, et al. (2021) 2021. “Immunogenicity and Protective Efficacy of an Intranasal Live-Attenuated Vaccine Against SARS-CoV-2”. IScience 24 (9): 102941.

Global deployment of an effective and safe vaccine is necessary to curtail the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Here, we evaluated a Newcastle disease virus (NDV)-based vectored-vaccine in mice and hamsters for its immunogenicity, safety, and protective efficacy against SARS-CoV-2. Intranasal administration of recombinant (r)NDV-S vaccine expressing spike (S) protein of SARS-CoV-2 to mice induced high levels of SARS-CoV-2-specific neutralizing immunoglobulin A (IgA) and IgG2a antibodies and T-cell-mediated immunity. Hamsters immunized with two doses of vaccine showed complete protection from lung infection, inflammation, and pathological lesions following SARS-CoV-2 challenge. Importantly, administration of two doses of intranasal rNDV-S vaccine significantly reduced the SARS-CoV-2 shedding in nasal turbinate and lungs in hamsters. Collectively, intranasal vaccination has the potential to control infection at the site of inoculation, which should prevent both clinical disease and virus transmission to halt the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scordo, Julia M, Génesis P Aguillón-Durán, Doris Ayala, Ana Paulina Quirino-Cerrillo, Eminé Rodríguez-Reyna, Mateo Joya-Ayala, Francisco Mora-Guzmán, et al. (2021) 2021. “Interferon Gamma Release Assays for Detection of Latent Mycobacterium Tuberculosis in Older Hispanic People”. International Journal of Infectious Diseases : IJID : Official Publication of the International Society for Infectious Diseases 111: 85-91.

BACKGROUND: Interferon gamma release assays (IGRAs) are used to detect latent Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M.tb) infection (LTBI) in adults, but their performance in older people is not well-established. We evaluated IGRAs for LTBI detection in older Hispanic recent TB contacts (ReC) or community controls (CoC).

METHODS: Cross-sectional assessment of LTBI with T-SPOT.TB and/or QuantiFERON-Gold in-tube or -Plus assay in older (≥60 years) and adult (18-50 years) Hispanic people.

RESULTS: We enrolled 193 CoC (119 adults, 74 older persons) and 459 ReC (361 adults, 98 older persons). LTBI positivity increased with age in CoC (19%-59%, P<0.001), but was similar in ReC (59%-69%, P=0.329). Older people had lower concordance between IGRAs (kappa 0.465 vs 0.688 in adults) and more inconclusive results (indeterminate/borderline 11.6% vs 5.8% in adults, P=0.012). With simultaneous IGRAs, inconclusive results were resolved as positive or negative with the other IGRA. The magnitude of response to M.tb peptides in IGRAs was similar among age groups, but responsiveness to mitogens was lower in older people.

CONCLUSIONS: IGRAs are suitable for LTBI detection in older people. Discordant and inconclusive findings are more prevalent in older people, but results are resolved when IGRA is repeated with a different IGRA test.

Chiem, Kevin, Desarey Morales Vasquez, Jesus A Silvas, Jun-Gyu Park, Michael S Piepenbrink, Julien Sourimant, Michelle J Lin, et al. (2021) 2021. “A Bifluorescent-Based Assay for the Identification of Neutralizing Antibodies Against SARS-CoV-2 Variants of Concern In Vitro and In Vivo”. Journal of Virology 95 (22): e0112621.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) emerged at the end of 2019 and has been responsible for the still ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Prophylactic vaccines have been authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the prevention of COVID-19. Identification of SARS-CoV-2-neutralizing antibodies (NAbs) is important to assess vaccine protection efficacy, including their ability to protect against emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VoC). Here, we report the generation and use of a recombinant (r)SARS-CoV-2 USA/WA1/2020 (WA-1) strain expressing Venus and an rSARS-CoV-2 strain expressing mCherry and containing mutations K417N, E484K, and N501Y found in the receptor binding domain (RBD) of the spike (S) glycoprotein of the South African (SA) B.1.351 (beta [β]) VoC in bifluorescent-based assays to rapidly and accurately identify human monoclonal antibodies (hMAbs) able to neutralize both viral infections in vitro and in vivo. Importantly, our bifluorescent-based system accurately recapitulated findings observed using individual viruses. Moreover, fluorescent-expressing rSARS-CoV-2 strain and the parental wild-type (WT) rSARS-CoV-2 WA-1 strain had similar viral fitness in vitro, as well as similar virulence and pathogenicity in vivo in the K18 human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (hACE2) transgenic mouse model of SARS-CoV-2 infection. We demonstrate that these new fluorescent-expressing rSARS-CoV-2 can be used in vitro and in vivo to easily identify hMAbs that simultaneously neutralize different SARS-CoV-2 strains, including VoC, for the rapid assessment of vaccine efficacy or the identification of prophylactic and/or therapeutic broadly NAbs for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2 infection. IMPORTANCE SARS-CoV-2 is responsible of the COVID-19 pandemic that has warped daily routines and socioeconomics. There is still an urgent need for prophylactics and therapeutics to treat SARS-CoV-2 infections. In this study, we demonstrate the feasibility of using bifluorescent-based assays for the rapid identification of hMAbs with neutralizing activity against SARS-CoV-2, including VoC in vitro and in vivo. Importantly, results obtained with these bifluorescent-based assays recapitulate those observed with individual viruses, demonstrating their feasibility to rapidly advance our understanding of vaccine efficacy and to identify broadly protective human NAbs for the therapeutic treatment of SARS-CoV-2.