Engineering synthetic lipopeptide antigen for specific detection of Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis infection
Unlike other MAC members, Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (MAP) does not produce glycopeptidolipids (GPL) on the surface of the cell wall but a lipopentapeptide called L5P (also termed Lipopeptide-I or Para-LP-01) characterized in C-type (bovine) strains. This lipopeptide antigen contains a pentapeptide core, D-Phenylalanine-N-methyl-L-Valine-L-Isoleucine-L-Phenylalanine-L-Alanine, in which the N-terminal D-Phenylalanine is amido-linked with a fatty acid (C18–C20). The molecular and genetic characterization of this antigen demonstrated that L5P is unique to MAP. Knowledge of the structure of L5P enabled synthetic production of this lipopeptide in large quantities for immunological evaluation. Various studies described the immune response directed against L5P and confirmed its capability for detection of MAP infection. However, the hydrophobic nature of lipopeptide antigens make their handling and use in organic solvents unsuitable for industrial processes. The objectives of this study were to produce, by chemical synthesis, a water-soluble variant of L5P and to evaluate these compounds for the serological diagnosis of MAP using well-defined serum banks. The native L5P antigen and its hydrosoluble analogue were synthesized on solid phase. The pure compounds were evaluated on collections of extensively characterized sera from infected and non-infected cattle. ROC analysis showed that L5P and also its water-soluble derivative are suitable for the development of a serological test for Johne’s disease. Advantageously, these pure synthetic MAP specific antigens can be easily produced in non-limiting quantities at low cost and in standardized batches for robust studies. The fact that L5P has not been validated in the context of ovine paratuberculosis highlights the need to better characterize the antigens expressed from the different genetic lineages of MAP to discover new diagnostic antigens. Currently available serodiagnostic ELISA tests are based on the use of crude antigens that are not MAP specific and that require a pre-absorption step with antigens of M. phlei to remove cross-reactivity. In the context of infections due to other mycobacteria such as M. bovis or the more closely related species M. avium subsp. hominissuis, the L5P did not cross react and therefore may be a valuable antigen to solve ambiguous results in other tests.