This work is part of a retrospective collection of 179 electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs) from the VCU Libraries pilot ETD system that were designated as available only to VCU users. Please contact us at if you have questions or if you are the author of one of these and would like to release it for online public access.

Non-VCU users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this thesis through interlibrary loan.

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Microbiology & Immunology

First Advisor

Dr. Cynthia Nau Cornelissen


The gonococcal transferrin binding proteins (Tbps) are two surface-exposed outer membrane proteins, TbpA and TbpB, which together function to remove and internalized iron from human transferrin. Iron is an essential nutrient to the gonococcus, without which it cannot survive. The Tbps have been established as virulence factors, demonstrating their importance in establishing infection. Both TbpA and TbpB are well conserved among gonococcal isolates, and have been considered potential vaccine targets. Vaccine studies with the closely related species Neisseria meningitidis, have demonstrated these proteins to be protective in murine challenge studies. Though the meningococcal Tbps have demonstrated promise, no similar gonococcal vaccine experiments have been conducted prior to the current studies. Here we demonstrate purification of recombinant TbpA and TbpB. These recombinant proteins were utilized to evaluate the human immune response to these proteins during natural infections, and their immunogenicity in murine vaccine studies. Our results demonstrate a paucity of antibodies elicited to these proteins during natural infections in serum and mucosal secretions from infected individuals. From this study we hypothesized the induction of both serum and genital antibodies to these proteins could serve to protect an individual from infection. To begin testing this hypothesis, we immunized mice both intranasally (IN) and subcutaneously (s.c.) with full-length Tbps in conjunction with the B subunit of cholera toxin (Ctb) as an adjuvant. We also performed another vaccine study using domains from both proteins in genetic fusions with Ctb and E. coli heat labile toxin IIb (LtbIIb). Both studies demonstrated that these antigens were immunogenic, as Tbp-specific antibodies were elicited in the serum and vaginal washes of female Balb/C mice. Intranasal immunization however was the only route with which we were able to elicit vaginal Tbp-specific IgA, and IgG, whereas subcutaneous immunization only elicited vaginal IgG. Furthermore, we found the full-length Tbps and the Ctb/LtbIIb chimeras were able to elicit bactericidal antibodies, which were also effective in killing heterologous gonococcal strains. This body of work comprises the first published study using the gonococcal transferrin binding proteins as vaccine antigens, and highlights their potential as vaccine antigens in the development of an efficacious gonococcal vaccine.


Part of Retrospective ETD Collection, restricted to VCU only.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

June 2008