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  Pharmaceutical Patents  

 

Title:  VMP-like sequences of pathogenic Borrelia species and strains
United States Patent: 
7,847,084
Issued: 
December 7, 2010

Inventors:
 Norris; Steven J. (Houston, TX)
Assignee:
  Board of Regents, The University of Texas System (Austin, TX)
Appl
. No.:
 10/539,956
Filed:
 December 22, 2003
PCT Filed:
 December 22, 2003
PCT No.:
 PCT/US03/41182
371(c)(1),(2),(4) Date:
 April 06, 2006
PCT Pub. No.:
 WO2004/058181
PCT Pub. Date:
 July 15, 2004


 

Patheon


Abstract

The present invention relates to DNA sequences encoding Vmp-like polypeptides of pathogenic Borrelia, the use of the DNA sequences in recombinant vectors to express polypeptides, the encoded amino acid sequences, application of the DNA and amino acid sequences to the production of polypeptides as antigens for immunoprophylaxis, immunotherapy, and immunodiagnosis. Also disclosed are the use of the nucleic acid sequences as probes or primers for the detection of organisms causing Lyme disease, relapsing fever, or related disorders, and kits designed to facilitate methods of using the described polypeptides, DNA segments and antibodies.

Description of the Invention

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Partial and complete DNA sequences have been determined for several recombinant clones containing DNA encoding VMP-like sequences. The identification and characterization of these sequences now allows: (1) identification of the expressed gene(s) or DNA segments containing open reading frames in several Borreliae; (2) expression of these gene(s) by a recombinant vector in a host organism such as E. coli; (3) immunization of laboratory animals with the resulting polypeptide, and determination of protective activity against Borreliae infection; (4) use of antibodies against the expressed protein to identify the reactive polypeptide(s) in Borreliae cells; (5) use of the expressed protein(s) to detect antibody responses in infected humans and animals; (6) determination of the presence, sequence differences, and expression of the VMP-like DNA sequences in other Lyme disease Borreliae.

The invention is contemplated to be useful in the immunoprophylaxis, diagnosis, or treatment of Lyme disease, relapsing fever, or related diseases in humans or animals. It is expected that recombinant or native proteins expressed by the VMP-like genes (or portions thereof) will be useful for (a) immunoprophylaxis against Lyme disease, relapsing fever, or related disorders in humans and animals; (b) immunotherapy of existing Lyme disease, relapsing fever, or related illnesses, by way of immunization of injection of antibodies directed against VMP-like proteins; and (c) immunodiagnosis of Lyme disease, relapsing fever, or related diseases, including their use in kits in which the VMP-like proteins are the sole antigen or one of multiple antigens. The DNA may be employed in: (a) production of recombinant DNA plasmids or other vectors capable of expressing recombinant polypeptides; and (b) design and implementation of nucleic acid probes or oligonucleotides for detection and/or amplification of VMP-like sequences. The latter is expected to have application in the diagnosis of infection with Borrelia organisms.

Another aspect of the invention is the method for identification of possible virulence factors. This approach entails subtractive hybridization of target DNA from high infectivity organisms with driver DNA from low-infectivity strains or clones. This procedure greatly enriches for sequences which differ between the high- and low-infectivity strains and thus may encode proteins important in virulence. Of particular utility is the use of closely related isogenic clones that differ in their infectivity; in this case, the DNA differences should be restricted more stringently to those related to infectivity.

The invention is considered to include DNA segments corresponding to 10, 20, 30, and 40 base pairs of the VMP-like sequences; DNA segments inclusive of the entire open reading frames of the VMP-like sequences; shorter DNA segments containing portions of these open reading frames; amino acid sequences corresponding to both conserved and variable regions of the VMP-like sequences; recombinant vectors encoding an antigenic protein corresponding to the above amino acid sequences; recombinant cells where extrachromosomal DNA expresses a polypeptide encoded by the DNA encoding Borrelia VMP-like sequences; a recombinant Borreliae or E. coli cell containing the DNA encoding VMP-like sequences; methods of preparing transformed bacterial host cells using the DNA encoding the VMP-like polypeptides; methods using the plasmid or another vector to transform the bacterial host cell to express Borreliae polypeptides encoded by the DNA sequences; and methods for immunization of humans or animals with the native Borreliae polypeptides, polypeptides expressed by recombinant cells that include DNA encoding the VMP-like polypeptides, or synthetic peptides that include VMP-like sequences.

Also included in the invention are primer sets capable of priming amplification of the VMP-like DNA sequences; kits for the detection of Borreliae nucleic acids in a sample, the kits containing a nucleic acid probe specific for the VMP-like sequences, together with a means for detecting a specific hybridization with the probe; kits for detection of antibodies against the VMP-like sequences of Borreliae and kits containing a native, recombinant, or synthetic VMP-like polypeptide, together with means for detecting a specific binding of antibodies to the antigen.

A preferred, embodiment of the present invention is an isolated nucleic acid comprising a nucleotide sequence that encodes an antigenic peptide of Borrelia garinii or B. afzelii. More preferably, the present invention provides an isolated nucleic acid that encodes at least 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 75, 100, 125, 150, 175, 200 or more contiguous amino acids of SEQ ID NO:6, SEQ ID NO:8, SEQ ID NO:10, SEQ ID NO:12, SEQ ID NO:14, SEQ ID NO:16, SEQ ID NO:18, SEQ ID NO:20, SEQ ID NO:30, SEQ ID NO:32, SEQ ID NO:34, SEQ ID NO:36, SEQ ID NO:38, SEQ ID NO:40, SEQ ID NO:42, SEQ ID NO:44, SEQ ID NO:46, SEQ ID NO:48, SEQ ID NO:50, SEQ ID NO:52, SEQ ID NO:54, SEQ ID NO:56, SEQ ID NO:59, SEQ ID NO:61, SEQ ID NO:63, SEQ ID NO:65, SEQ ID NO:67, SEQ ID NO:69, SEQ ID NO:71, SEQ ID NO:73, SEQ ID NO:75, SEQ ID NO:77, SEQ ID NO:79, SEQ ID NO:81, SEQ ID NO:83, SEQ ID NO:85, SEQ ID NO:87, SEQ ID NO:91, SEQ ID NO:93, SEQ ID NO:95, and SEQ ID NO:97. Further, the invention contemplates any range derivable between any of the above-described integers.

In another embodiment, the present invention provides an isolated nucleic acid comprising 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68. 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 120, 125, 150, 175, 200, 300, 400, 500 or more contiguous nucleotides of SEQ ID NO:5, SEQ ID NO:7, SEQ ID NO:9, SEQ ID NO:1, SEQ ID NO:13, SEQ ID NO:15, SEQ ID NO:17, SEQ ID NO:19, SEQ ID NO:28, SEQ ID NO:29, SEQ ID NO:31, SEQ ID NO:33, SEQ ID NO:35, SEQ ID NO:37, SEQ ID NO:39, SEQ ID NO:41, SEQ ID NO:43, SEQ ID NO:45, SEQ ID NO:47, SEQ ID NO:49, SEQ ID NO:51, SEQ ID NO:53, SEQ ID NO:55, SEQ ID NO:57, SEQ ID NO:58, SEQ ID NO:60, SEQ ID NO:62, SEQ ID NO:64, SEQ ID NO:66, SEQ ID NO:68, SEQ ID NO:70, SEQ ID NO:72, SEQ ID NO:74, SEQ ID NO:76, SEQ ID NO:78, SEQ ID NO:80, SEQ ID NO:82, SEQ ID NO:84, SEQ ID NO:88, SEQ ID NO:89, SEQ ID NO:90, SEQ ID NO:92, SEQ ID NO:94, and SEQ ID NO:96. Further, the invention contemplates any range derivable between any of the above-described integers.

In yet another embodiment, the isolated nucleic acid comprises a complement to or a degenerate variant of 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 120, 125, 150, 175, 200, 300, 400, 500 or more contiguous nucleotides of SEQ ID NO:5, SEQ ID NO:7, SEQ ID NO:9, SEQ ID NO:1, SEQ ID NO:13, SEQ ID NO:15, SEQ ID NO:17, SEQ ID NO:19, SEQ ID NO:28, SEQ ID NO:29, SEQ ID NO:31, SEQ ID NO:33, SEQ ID NO:35, SEQ ID NO:37, SEQ ID NO:39, SEQ ID NO:41, SEQ ID NO:43, SEQ ID NO:45, SEQ ID NO:47, SEQ ID NO:49, SEQ ID NO:51, SEQ ID NO:53, SEQ ID NO:55, SEQ ID NO:57, SEQ ID NO:58, SEQ ID NO:60, SEQ ID NO:62, SEQ ID NO:64, SEQ ID NO:66, SEQ ID NO:68, SEQ ID NO:70, SEQ ID NO:72, SEQ ID NO:74, SEQ ID NO:76, SEQ ID NO:78, SEQ ID NO:80, SEQ ID NO:82, SEQ ID NO:84, SEQ ID NO:88, SEQ ID NO:89, SEQ ID NO:90, SEQ ID NO:92, SEQ ID NO:94, and SEQ ID NO:96. Further, the invention contemplates any range derivable between any of the above-described integers.

In some embodiments the isolated nucleic acid is a DNA molecule. In other embodiments the isolated nucleic acid is an RNA molecule.

In certain embodiments the invention provides an isolated nucleic acid obtained by amplification from a template nucleic acid using a primer selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NO:21, SEQ ID NO:22, SEQ ID NO:23, SEQ ID NO:24, SEQ ID NO:25, SEQ ID NO:26, SEQ ID NO:27, SEQ ID NO:98, SEQ ID NO:99, SEQ ID NO:100, SEQ ID NO:101, SEQ BD NO:102, SEQ ID NO:103, SEQ ID NO:104, SEQ ID NO:105, SEQ ID NO:106, and SEQ ID NO:107.

The nucleic acid segments of the present invention, regardless of the length of the coding sequence itself, may be combined with other DNA sequences, such as promoters, enhancers, polyadenylation signals, additional restriction enzyme sites, multiple cloning sites, other coding segments, and the like.

A preferred embodiment of the present invention is an isolated polypeptide comprising 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 75, 100, 125, 150, 175, 200 or more contiguous amino acids of SEQ ID NO:6, SEQ ID NO:8, SEQ ID NO:10, SEQ ID NO:12, SEQ ID NO:14, SEQ ID NO:16, SEQ ID NO:18, SEQ ID NO:20, SEQ ID NO:30, SEQ ID NO:32, SEQ ID NO:34, SEQ ID NO:36, SEQ ID NO:38, SEQ ID NO:40, SEQ ID NO:42, SEQ ID NO:44, SEQ ID NO:46, SEQ ID NO:48, SEQ ID NO:50, SEQ ID NO:52, SEQ ID NO:54, SEQ ID NO:56, SEQ ID NO:59, SEQ ID NO:61, SEQ ID NO:63, SEQ ID NO:65, SEQ ID NO:67, SEQ ID NO:69, SEQ ID NO:71, SEQ ID NO:73, SEQ ID NO:75, SEQ ID NO:77, SEQ ID NO:79, SEQ ID NO:81, SEQ ID NO:83, SEQ ID NO:85, SEQ ID NO:87, SEQ ID NO:91, SEQ ID NO:93, SEQ ID NO:95, and SEQ ID NO:97. Further, the invention contemplates any range derivable between any of the above-described integers.

In one aspect, the present invention provides for an isolated polypeptide or an isolated nucleic acid encoding a polypeptide having between about 70% and about 75%; or more preferably between about 75% and about 80%; or more preferably between about 80% and 90%; or even more preferably between about 90% and about 99% of amino acids that are identical to the amino acids of SEQ ID NO:6, SEQ ID NO:8, SEQ ID NO:10, SEQ ID NO:12, SEQ ID NO:14, SEQ ID NO:16, SEQ ID NO:18, SEQ ID NO:20, SEQ ID NO:30, SEQ ID NO:32, SEQ ID NO:34, SEQ ID NO:36, SEQ ID NO:38, SEQ ID NO:40, SEQ ID NO:42, SEQ ID NO:44, SEQ ID NO:46, SEQ ID NO:48, SEQ ID NO:50, SEQ ID NO:52, SEQ ID NO:54, SEQ ID NO:56, SEQ ID NO:59, SEQ ID NO:61, SEQ ID NO:63, SEQ ID NO:65, SEQ ID NO:67, SEQ ID NO:69, SEQ ID NO:71, SEQ ID NO:73, SEQ ID NO:75, SEQ ID NO:77, SEQ ID NO:79, SEQ ID NO:81, SEQ ID NO:83, SEQ ID NO:85, SEQ ID NO:87, SEQ ID NO:91, SEQ ID NO:93, SEQ ID NO:95, and SEQ ID NO:97 or fragments thereof. The percent identity or homology is determined with regard to the length of the relevant amino acid sequence. Therefore, if a polypeptide of the present invention is comprised within a larger polypeptide, the percent homology is determined with regard only to the portion of the polypeptide that corresponds to the polypeptide of the present invention and not the percent homology of the entirety of the larger polypeptide.

In addition, the present invention encompasses fragments of polypeptides or nucleic acids encoding fragments of polypeptides that have between about 70% and about 75%; or more preferably between about 75% and about 80%; or more preferably between about 80% and 90%; or even more preferably between about 90% and about 99% of amino acids that are identical to the amino acids of SEQ ID NO:6, SEQ ID NO:8, SEQ ID NO:10, SEQ ID NO:12, SEQ ID NO:14, SEQ ID NO:16, SEQ ID NO:18, SEQ ID NO:20, SEQ ID NO:30, SEQ ID NO:32, SEQ ID NO:34, SEQ ID NO:36, SEQ ID NO:38, SEQ ID NO:40, SEQ ID NO:42, SEQ ID NO:44, SEQ ID NO:46, SEQ ID NO:48, SEQ ID NO:50, SEQ ID NO:52, SEQ ID NO:54, SEQ ID NO:56, SEQ ID NO:59, SEQ ID NO:61, SEQ ID NO:63, SEQ ID NO:65, SEQ ID NO:67, SEQ ID NO:69, SEQ ID NO:71, SEQ ID NO:73, SEQ ID NO:75, SEQ ID NO:77, SEQ BD NO:79, SEQ ID NO:81, SEQ ID NO:83, SEQ ID NO:85, SEQ ID NO:87, SEQ ID NO:91, SEQ ID NO:93, SEQ ID NO:95, and SEQ ID NO:97 even if the particular fragment itself does not have between about 70% and about 75%; or more preferably between about 75% and about 80%; or more preferably between about 80% and 90%; or even more preferably between about 90% and about 99% amino acid homology with the polypeptides of the present invention.

In another embodiment the invention provides an isolated polypeptide that binds immunologically with antibodies raised against an antigenic polypeptide of Borrelia garinii or B. afzelii. In a preferred embodiment the antibodies are raised against an antigenic polypeptide comprising at least 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 75, 100, 125, 150, 175, 200 or more contiguous amino acids of SEQ ID NO:6, SEQ ID NO:8, SEQ ID NO:10, SEQ ID NO:12, SEQ ID NO:14, SEQ ID NO:16, SEQ ID NO:18, SEQ ID NO:20, SEQ ID NO:30, SEQ ID NO:32, SEQ ID NO:34, SEQ ID NO:36, SEQ ID NO:38, SEQ ID NO:40, SEQ ID NO:42, SEQ ID NO:44, SEQ ID NO:46, SEQ ID NO:48, SEQ ID NO:50, SEQ ID NO:52, SEQ ID NO:54, SEQ ID NO:56, SEQ ID NO:59, SEQ ID NO:61, SEQ ID NO:63, SEQ ID NO:65, SEQ ID NO:67, SEQ ID NO:69, SEQ ID NO:71, SEQ ID NO:73, SEQ ID NO:75, SEQ ID NO:77, SEQ ID NO:79, SEQ ID NO:81, SEQ ID NO:83, SEQ ID NO:85, SEQ ID NO:87, SEQ ID NO:91, SEQ ID NO:93, SEQ ID NO:95, and SEQ ID NO:97. Further, the invention contemplates any range derivable between any of the above-described integers.

The polypeptides of the present invention may be fused with other proteins or peptides. Such fusion polypeptides may be useful for purification or immunodetection purposes, for example. In a preferred embodiment the polypeptides of the invention are expressed as fusions with .beta.-galactosidase, avidin, ubiquitin, Schistosoma japonicum glutathione S-transferase, multiple histidines, epitope-tags and the like.

Another aspect of the invention comprises vectors that comprise a nucleic acid encoding all or part of a polypeptide of the present invention. The vectors may, for example, be cloning or expression vectors.

In certain embodiments, it is contemplated that particular advantages will be gained by positioning the nucleic acid sequences of the present invention under the control of a promoter. The promoter may be the promoter that is normally associated with the nucleic acid sequence in its natural environment or it may be a recombinant or heterologous promoter. As used herein, a recombinant or heterologous promoter is intended to refer to a promoter that is not normally associated with a vls gene in its natural environment. Such promoters may include those normally associated with other Borrelia polypeptide genes, or promoters isolated from any other bacterial, viral, eukaryotic, or mammalian cell. Naturally, it will be important to employ a promoter that effectively directs the expression of the nucleic acid in the particular cell being used.

The promoters employed may be constitutive, or inducible, and can be used under the appropriate conditions to direct high level or regulated expression of the introduced nucleic acid. In preferred embodiments the promoters are lac, T7, Ara, CMV, RSV LIR, the SV40 promoter alone, or the SV40 promoter in combination with the SV40 enhancer.

Another embodiment is a method of preparing a protein composition comprising growing a recombinant host cell comprising a vector that encodes a polypeptide of the present invention under conditions permitting nucleic acid expression and protein production followed by recovering the protein so produced. The host cell, conditions permitting nucleic acid expression, protein production and recovery, will be known to those of skill in the art, in light of the present disclosure of the vls gene. The recombinant host cell may be a prokaryotic cell or a eukaryotic cell.

VMP-like related proteins and functional variants are also considered part of the invention. Thus it is expected that truncated and mutated versions of SEQ ID NO:6, SEQ ID NO:8, SEQ ID NO:10, SEQ ID NO:12, SEQ ID NO:14, SEQ ID NO:16, SEQ ID NO:18, SEQ ID NO:20, SEQ ID NO:30, SEQ ID NO:32, SEQ ID NO:34, SEQ ID NO:36, SEQ ID NO:38, SEQ ID NO:40, SEQ ID NO:42, SEQ ID NO:44, SEQ ID NO:46, SEQ ID NO:48, SEQ ID NO:50, SEQ ID NO:52, SEQ ID NO:54, SEQ ID NO:56, SEQ ID NO:59, SEQ ID NO:61, SEQ ID NO:63, SEQ ID NO:65, SEQ ID NO:67, SEQ ID NO:69, SEQ ID NO:71, SEQ ID NO:73, SEQ ID NO:75, SEQ ID NO:77, SEQ ID NO:79, SEQ ID NO:81, SEQ ID NO:83, SEQ ID NO:85, SEQ ID NO:87, SEQ ID NO:91, SEQ ID NO:93, SEQ ID NO:95, and SEQ ID NO:97 will afford more convenient and effective forms of polypeptides for treatment regimens. Thus, any functional version of SEQ ID NO:6, SEQ ID NO:8, SEQ ID NO:10, SEQ ID NO:12, SEQ ID NO:14, SEQ ID NO:16, SEQ ID NO:18, SEQ ID NO:20, SEQ ID NO:30, SEQ ID NO:32, SEQ ID NO:34, SEQ ID NO:36, SEQ ID NO:38, SEQ ID NO:40, SEQ ID NO:42, SEQ ID NO:44, SEQ ID NO:46, SEQ ID NO:48, SEQ ID NO:50, SEQ ID NO:52, SEQ ID NO:54, SEQ ID NO:56, SEQ ID NO:59, SEQ ID NO:61, SEQ ID NO:63, SEQ ID NO:65, SEQ ID NO:67, SEQ ID NO:69, SEQ ID NO:71, SEQ ID NO:73, SEQ ID NO:75, SEQ ID NO:77, SEQ ID NO:79, SEQ ID NO:81, SEQ ID NO:83, SEQ ID NO:85, SEQ ID NO:87, SEQ ID NO:91, SEQ ID NO:93, SEQ ID NO:95, and SEQ ID NO:97, such as truncated species or homologs, and mutated versions of VMP-like protein are considered as part of the invention.

Another aspect of the invention comprises the recombination of the 14 silent vls cassettes of B. afzelii in numerous combinations, providing for example a cocktail of peptide compositions for use as immunogens to develop vaccines for use in Lyme disease and related conditions. Likewise, the 11 silent vls cassettes of B. garinii and the 15 silent vls cassettes of B. burgdorferi may be recombined in numerous combinations. It is further contemplated by the present invention that these cassettes may be recombined among strains, as well as species of Borrelia, providing a cocktail of peptide compositions for use as immunogens to develop vaccines for use in Lyme disease and related conditions.

Pharmaceutical compositions prepared in accordance with the present invention find use in preventing or ameliorating conditions associated with Borrelia infections, particularly Lyme disease.

Such methods generally involve administering a pharmaceutical composition comprising an effective amount of a VMP-like antigen of Borrelia, such as SEQ ID NO:6, SEQ ID NO:8, SEQ ID NO:10, SEQ ID NO:12, SEQ ID NO:14, SEQ ID NO:16, SEQ ID NO:18, SEQ ID NO:20, SEQ ID NO:30, SEQ ID NO:32, SEQ ID NO:34, SEQ ID NO:36, SEQ ID NO:38, SEQ ID NO:40, SEQ ID NO:42, SEQ ID NO:44, SEQ ID NO:46, SEQ ID NO:48, SEQ ID NO:50, SEQ ID NO:52, SEQ ID NO:54, SEQ ID NO:56, SEQ ID NO:59, SEQ ID NO:61, SEQ ID NO:63, SEQ ID NO:65, SEQ ID NO:67, SEQ ID NO:69, SEQ ID NO:71, SEQ ID NO:73, SEQ ID NO:75, SEQ ID NO:77, SEQ ID NO:79, SEQ ID NO:81, SEQ ID NO:83, SEQ ID NO:85, SEQ ID NO:87, SEQ ID NO:91, SEQ ID NO:93, SEQ ID NO:95, and SEQ ID NO:97 or various epitopes thereof.

In certain embodiments of the invention a vaccine may comprise a polynucleotide encoding an antigenic polypeptide. In more specific embodiments the polynucleotide may have a sequence of SEQ ID NO:5, SEQ ID NO:7, SEQ ID NO:9, SEQ ID NO:11, SEQ ID NO:13, SEQ ID NO:15, SEQ ID NO:17, SEQ ID NO:19, SEQ ID NO:28, SEQ ID NO:29, SEQ ID NO:31, SEQ ID NO:33, SEQ ID NO:35, SEQ ID NO:37, SEQ ID NO:39, SEQ ID NO:41, SEQ ID NO:43, SEQ ID NO:45, SEQ ID NO:47, SEQ ID NO:49, SEQ ID NO:51, SEQ ID NO:53, SEQ ID NO:55, SEQ ID NO:57, SEQ ID NO:58, SEQ ID NO:60, SEQ ID NO:62, SEQ ID NO:64, SEQ ID NO:66, SEQ ID NO:68, SEQ ID NO:70, SEQ ID NO:72, SEQ ID NO:74, SEQ ID NO:76, SEQ ID NO:78, SEQ ID NO:80, SEQ ID NO:82, SEQ ID NO:84, SEQ ID NO:88, SEQ ID NO:89, SEQ ID NO:90, SEQ ID NO:92, SEQ ID NO:94, and SEQ ID NO:96 or various fragments thereof. The vaccines of the present invention may comprise multiple polypeptides and/or polynucleotides.

It will also be understood that, if desired, the nucleic acid segment or gene encoding a VMP-like protein could be administered in combination with further agents, such as, proteins or polypeptides or various pharmaceutically active agents. There is virtually no limit to other components which may also be included, given that the additional agents do not cause a significant adverse effect upon contact with the target cells or host tissues.

Therapeutic kits comprising a polypeptide or nucleic acid of the present invention comprise another aspect of the invention. Such kits will generally contain, in suitable container means, a pharmaceutically acceptable formulation of a polypeptide or nucleic acid of the present invention. The kit may have a single container means that contains a polypeptide or nucleic acid of the present invention or it may have distinct container means for the polypeptide or nucleic acid of the present invention and other reagents that may be included within such kits.

The components of the kit may be provided as liquid solution(s), or as dried powder(s). When the components are provided in a liquid solution, the liquid solution is an aqueous solution, with a sterile aqueous solution being particularly preferred. When reagents or components are provided as a dry powder, the powder can be reconstituted by the addition of a suitable solvent. It is envisioned that the solvent may also be provided in another container means.

In another embodiment, the invention provides diagnostic kits. The diagnostic kits may comprise reagents for detecting VMP-like polypeptides or anti-VMP-like antibodies in a sample, such as required for immunoassay. The immunodetection reagent will typically comprise a label associated with the antibody or antigen, or associated with a secondary binding ligand. Exemplary ligands might include a secondary antibody directed against the first antibody or antigen or a biotin or avidin (or streptavidin) ligand having an associated label. Of course, a number of exemplary labels are known in the art and all such labels may be employed in connection with the present invention. The kits may contain antibody-label conjugates either in fully conjugated form, in the form of intermediates, or as separate moieties to be conjugated by the user of the kit.

The container means will generally include at least one vial, test tube, flask, bottle, syringe or other container means, into which the antigen or antibody may be placed, and preferably suitably aliquoted. Where a second binding ligand is provided, the kit will also generally contain a second vial or other container into which this ligand or antibody may be placed. The kits of the present invention will also typically include a means for containing the antibody, antigen, and reagent containers in close confinement for commercial sale. Such containers may include injection or blow-molded plastic containers into which the desired vials are retained.

In another aspect, the present invention contemplates an antibody that is immunoreactive with a polypeptide of the invention. An antibody can be a polyclonal or a monoclonal antibody. In a preferred embodiment, an antibody is a monoclonal antibody.

Antibodies, both polyclonal and monoclonal, specific for VMP-like polypeptides and particularly those represented by SEQ ID NO:6, SEQ ID NO:8, SEQ ID NO:10, SEQ ID NO:12, SEQ ID NO:14, SEQ ID NO:16, SEQ ID NO:18, SEQ ID NO:20, SEQ ID NO:30, SEQ ID NO:32, SEQ ID NO:34, SEQ ID NO:36, SEQ ID NO:38, SEQ ID NO:40, SEQ ID NO:42, SEQ ID NO:44, SEQ ID NO:46, SEQ ID NO:48, SEQ ID NO:50, SEQ ID NO:52, SEQ ID NO:54, SEQ ID NO:56, SEQ ID NO:59, SEQ ID NO:61, SEQ ID NO:63, SEQ ID NO:65, SEQ ID NO:67, SEQ ID NO:69, SEQ ID NO:71, SEQ ID NO:73, SEQ ID NO:75, SEQ ID NO:77, SEQ ID NO:79, SEQ ID NO:81, SEQ ID NO:83, SEQ ID NO:85, SEQ ID NO:87, SEQ ID NO:91, SEQ ID NO:93, SEQ ID NO:95, and SEQ ID NO:97 or variants and epitopes thereof, may be prepared using conventional immunization techniques, as will be generally known to those of skill in the art.

In related embodiments, the invention provides methods of using the antibodies of the invention. In preferred embodiments, the antibodies may be used in immunochemical procedures, such as ELISA and Western blot methods. In other embodiments, the antibodies may be used in purifying native or recombinant VMP-like polypeptides, inhibition studies, and immunolocalization studies.

Table 1 (see Original Patent) provides the SEQ ID NO, the GenBank accession number, if any, and a brief description of the sequences described herein.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF ILLUSTRATIVE EMBODIMENTS

The present work discloses the identification and characterization of an elaborate genetic system in the Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia that promotes extensive antigenic variation of a surface-exposed lipoprotein, VlsE.

Hybridization with the B. burgdorferi B31 vls silent cassette sequence in recombinant plasmid pJRZ53 was used in identifying the plasmids and DNA fragments containing vls sequences in B. garinii Ip90 and B. afzelii ACAI. The pJRZ53 probe hybridized exclusively to plasmids with an approximate size of 28 kb in both ACAI and Ip90. DNA fragments from these B. garinii Ip90 and B. afzelii ACAI plasmids were inserted into a recombinant lambda bacteriophage vector (lambda-DashI) and sequenced. The results showed B. garinii Ip90 to consist of 11 vls silent cassettes and B. afzelii ACAI of 14 vls silent cassettes.

With the exception of the junctions at vls3/4 and vls6/7, the 11 vls silent cassettes of Ip90 are flanked by 18 bp direct repeat sequences in the 6 kb region. However, several of these cassettes (vls1, vls4, vls6, and vls11) are truncated (189 to 288 bp in length) relative to the other, full-length cassettes ranging in size from 573 to 594 bp. Unlike Ip90 and B31, the ACAI vls locus is located on an internal EcoRI fragment of a 28-kb linear plasmid, and its location relative to the plasmid telomeres is not known. The ACAI vls locus contained 13 complete and 1 partial silent cassettes with each cassette being flanked by an 18 bp direct repeat sequence.

These silent cassettes share 90% to 97% nucleotide sequence identity with one another within the Ip90 vls locus and 84% to 91% within the ACAI vls locus. Amino acid similarity to the B31 silent cassettes ranges from 51% to 62% for the Ip90 vls silent cassettes and from 50% to 65% for the ACAI vls silent cassettes. The nucleotide sequence and predicted amino acid sequence of vlsE in B. burgdorferi is provided in SEQ ID NO:1 and SEQ ID NO:2, respectively. The vlsE expression sites of Ip90 and ACAI have not been isolated, but transcripts of vlsE have been detected by reverse transcriptase PCR for both Ip90 and ACAI. In addition, the occurrence of sequence variation within the vlsE cassette region of these transcripts was verified. Mice infected experimentally with B. garinii and B. afzelii strains have been shown to express anti-VlsE antibodies (Liang et. al., 2000a). Additionally, a protein product of .about.35 kDa expressed by B. garinii Ip90 reacts with antibodies against IR6, a peptide corresponding to invariant region 6 of the VlsE cassette region (Liang et. al., 1999a). The characteristics of the vls loci present in B. garinii Ip90 and B. afzelii ACAI are therefore similar to those found in B. burgdorferi B31.

Genetic variation involved in multi-gene families has been described in several other pathogenic microorganisms (Borst and Geaves, 1987; Borst et al., 1995; Donelson, 1995). In the context of combinatorial recombination, the genetic variation at the vlsE site is similar to that of the pilin-encoding genes of Neisseria gonorrhoeae (Seifert and So, 1988). The gonococcal pilus is primarily composed of repeating subunits of an 18-kilodalton pilin protein and is required for adherence of the bacterium to a variety of human cells (Swanson and Koomey, 1989). While the complete pilin genes are expressed only at two expression sites (pilE1 and pilE2), multiple silent copies (pilS) containing portions of the pilin genes are found over a wide range on the gonococcal chromosome (Haas and Meyer, 1986). Through multiple combinatorial recombination events, a single gonococcal clone expressing one pilin stereotype can give rise to a large number of progeny that express antigenically distinctive pilin variants (Meyer et al., 1982; Hagblom et al., 1985; Segal et al., 1986). The recombination between the expression and silent loci occurs predominantly through a non-reciprocal gene conversion mechanism (Haas and Meyer, 1986; Koomey et al., 1987).

The coding sequences of the Neisseria pilin variants are divided into constant, semi-variable, and hypervariable regions (Haas and Meyer, 1986), which are analogous to the conserved and variable regions of the vls cassettes. The constant regions and a conserved DNA sequence (Sma/Cla repeat) located at the 3' end of all pilin loci are thought to pair the regions involved in recombination events (Wainwright et al., 1994). In this context, the 18-bp direct repeats and the conserved regions of the vls cassettes in B. garinii and B. afzelii may play a similar role in recombination events. The silent loci of gonococcal pilin genes contain different regions of the complete pilin genes (Haas and Meyer, 1986), whereas the silent vls cassettes of Borrelia represent only the central cassette region of the vlsE gene.

Non-reciprocal recombinations also occur between the expressed and the silent genes encoding variant surface glycoproteins (Vsgs) in African trypanosomes (Donelson, 1995). Based on similarities between the vls locus and the multi-gene families of the other pathogenic microorganisms and experimental data (Zhang and Norris, 1998b), it is likely that a unidirectional gene conversion mechanism is also active in the vls locus. The exact mechanism of vls recombination remains to be determined.

Variation of Borreliae surface proteins such as VlsE may also affect the organism's virulence and its ability to adapt to different micro-environments during infection of the mammalian host. Recent studies of a Borrelia turicatae mouse infection model that resembles Lyme disease showed that one serotype expressing VmpB exhibited more severe arthritic manifestations, whereas another expressing VmpA had more severe central nervous system involvement (Cadavid et al, 1994). The numbers of Borreliae present in the joints and blood of serotype B-infected mice were much higher than those of mice infected with serotype A, consistent with a relationship between Vmp serotype and disease severity (Pennington et al, 1997). Antigenic variation of Neisseria pilin (Lambden et al., 1980; Rudel et al., 1992; Nassif et al., 1993; Jonsson et al, 1994) and Opa proteins (Kupsch et al, 1993) is known to affect adherence of the organisms to human leukocytes and epithelial cells.

A. Antigenic Variation in B. hermsii

A complex antigenic variation mechanism has been characterized in Borrelia hermsii, a relative of B. afzelii and B. garinii that causes relapsing fever (Balmelii and Piffatetti, 1996; Barbour, 1993; Donelson, 1995). Surface-exposed lipoproteins called variable major proteins (Vmps) are encoded by homologous genes located in 28- to 32-kb linear plasmids with covalently closed telomeres (Barbour and Garon, 1987; Kitten and Barbour, 1990). The vmp genes have been subdivided into two groups: small and large (Restrepo et al., 1992). Large vmp genes such as vmp7 and vmp17 and small vmp genes such as vmp1 and vmp3 are approximately 1 kb and 0.6 kb in size, respectively. Each organism contains both small and large vmp genes in an unexpressed (silent) form in the so-called storage plasmids (Plasterk et al., 1985). Only one vmp gene located near one of the telomeres of a different plasmid (called the expression plasmid) is expressed in each organism (Kitten and Barbour, 1990; Barbour et al., 1991a). The nucleotide sequence and predicted amino acid sequence of an expressed vmp gene of B. hermsii are provided in SEQ ID NO:3 and SEQ ID NO:4, respectively. Antigenic variation occurs when the expressed vmp is replaced completely or partially by one of the silent vmp genes at the telomeric expression site through interplasmic recombination (Meier et al., 1985; Plasterk et al., 1985; Barbour et al., 1991b), intraplasmic recombination (Restrepo et al., 1994), and post-switch rearrangement (Restrepo and Barbour, 1994). The antigenic switch occurs spontaneously at a frequency of 10.sup.-3 to 10.sup.4 per generation (Stoenner et al., 1982).

B. Identification of vls

The present invention discloses a repetitive DNA sequence .about.500 bp in length, which is present in multiple, nonidentical copies in a 28-kb linear plasmid of infectious Borrelia burgdorferi, Borrelia garinii, and Borrelia afzelii, the causative agents of Lyme disease. These DNA sequences encode polypeptides that have sequence similarity to the Variable Major Proteins (VMPs) of relapsing fever Borreliae (such as B. hermsii). VMPs are highly antigenic surface proteins, which the relapsing fever Borreliae are able to change through a genetic recombination mechanism, thereby evading the immune response. Antibodies against a particular VMP protein are protective, resulting in rapid clearance of bacteria of the corresponding serotype. In Borrelia burgdorferi, Borrelia garinii, and Borrelia afzelii, VMP-like sequences (vls) are present on a 28-kb linear plasmid, and this plasmid appears to encode virulence factor(s) required for infectivity.

C. ELISAs

ELISAs may be used in conjunction with the invention. In an ELISA assay, proteins or peptides incorporating Borrelia Vls antigenic sequences are immobilized onto a selected surface, preferably a surface exhibiting a protein affinity such as the wells of a polystyrene microtiter plate. The antigenic proteins or peptides may be isolated or comprised within larger polypeptides. For example, an antigenic Vls peptide may be comprised within a larger polypeptide that also includes a moiety that is useful for anchoring the polypeptide to the selected surface. The anchoring moiety may be an amino acid sequence. Virtually any amino acid sequence may be added to the antigenic Vls sequence so long as it does not confound the results of the ELISA assay. Those of skill in the art would know how to select amino acid sequences that are antigenically neutral with regard to antibodies in the biological sample (including, but not limited to, whole blood, plasma, serum, cerebrospinal fluid, other body fluids, or tissue extracts) that is being tested.

After washing to remove incompletely adsorbed material, it is desirable to bind or coat the assay plate wells with a nonspecific protein that is known to be antigenically neutral with regard to the biological sample such as bovine serum albumin (BSA), casein or solutions of powdered milk. This allows for blocking of nonspecific adsorption sites on the immobilizing surface and thus reduces the background caused by nonspecific binding of antibodies in the biological sample onto the surface.

After binding of antigenic material to the well, coating with a non-reactive material to reduce background, and washing to remove unbound material, the immobilizing surface is contacted with the antisera or clinical or biological sample to be tested in a manner conducive to immune complex (antigen/antibody) formation. Such conditions preferably include diluting the sample with diluents such as BSA, solution or phosphate buffered saline (PBS)/Tween.RTM.. These added agents also tend to assist in the reduction of nonspecific background. The layered biological sample preparation is then allowed to incubate in the well for from about 1 to about 4 hr, at temperatures preferably on the order of about 25.degree. to about 37.degree. C. Following incubation with the diluted or undiluted biological sample, the antisera-contacted surface is washed so as to remove non-immunocomplexed material. A preferred washing procedure includes washing with a solution such as PBS/Tween.RTM..

Following formation of specific immunocomplexes between the test sample and the bound antigen, and subsequent washing, the occurrence and even amount of immunocomplex formation may be determined by subjecting same to a second antibody having specificity for the first. To provide a detecting means, the second antibody will preferably have an associated enzyme that will generate a color development upon incubating with an appropriate chromogenic substrate. Thus, for example, one will desire to contact and incubate the antisera-bound surface with a urease, alkaline phosphatase or peroxidase-conjugated anti-human IgG for a period of time and under conditions which favor the development of immunocomplex formation (e.g. incubation for 2 hr at room temperature in a PBS-containing solution such as PBS/Tween.RTM.).

After incubation with the second enzyme-tagged antibody, and subsequent to washing to remove unbound material, the amount of label is quantified by incubation with a chromogenic substrate such as urea and bromocresol purple or 2,2'-azino-di-(3-ethyl-benzthiazoline)-6-sulfonic acid (ABTS) and H.sub.2O.sub.2, in the case of peroxidase as the enzyme label. Quantitation is then achieved by measuring the degree of color generation, e.g., using a visible spectrum spectrophotometer.

Alternatively, the ELISA assay may be performed where antibodies that bind immunologically to Borrelia Vls antigenic sequences are immobilized onto a selected surface. After binding of the antibody to the surface, coating with a non-reactive material to reduce background, and washing to remove unbound material, the immobilizing surface is contacted with the biological sample to be tested in a manner conducive to immune complex (antigen/antibody) formation. Following formation of specific immunocomplexes between the test sample and the bound antibody, and subsequent washing, immunocomplex formation may be determined using a second, labeled antibody. This approach enables the detection of an antigen in a biological sample.

D. Epitopic Core Sequences

The present invention is also directed to protein or peptide compositions, free from total cells and other peptides, which comprise a purified protein or peptide which incorporates an epitope that is immunologically cross-reactive with one or more anti-Borrelia VMP-like antibodies.

As used herein, the term "incorporating an epitope(s) that is immunologically cross-reactive with one or more anti-VMP-like antibodies" is intended to refer to a peptide or protein antigen which includes a primary, secondary or tertiary structure similar to an epitope located within a Borrelia VMP-like polypeptide. The level of similarity will generally be to such a degree that polyclonal antibodies directed against the Borrelia VMP-like polypeptide will also bind to, react with, or otherwise recognize, the cross-reactive peptide or protein antigen. Various immunoassay methods may be employed in conjunction with such antibodies, such as, for example, Western blotting, ELISA, RIA, and the like, all of which are known to those of skill in the art.

The identification of Borrelia VMP-like epitopes, and/or their functional equivalents, suitable for use in vaccines is a relatively straightforward matter. For example, one may employ the methods of Hopp, as taught in U.S. Pat. No. 4,554,101, incorporated herein by reference, which teaches the identification and preparation of epitopes from amino acid sequences on the basis of hydrophilicity. The methods described in several other papers, and software programs based thereon, can also be used to identify epitopic core sequences (see, for example, Jameson and Wolf, 1988; Wolf et al., 1988; U.S. Pat. No. 4,554,101). The amino acid sequence of these "epitopic core sequences" may then be readily incorporated into peptides, either through the application of peptide synthesis or recombinant technology.

Preferred peptides for use in accordance with the present invention will generally be on the order of about 5 to about 50 amino acids in length, and more preferably about 8 to about 40 amino acids in length Such peptides may be isolated or comprised within a larger polypeptide. It is proposed that shorter antigenic Borrelia VMP-like-derived peptide sequences will provide advantages in certain circumstances, for example, in the preparation of vaccines or in immunologic detection assays. Exemplary advantages include the ease of preparation and purification, the relatively low cost and improved reproducibility of production, and advantageous biodistribution.

It is proposed that particular advantages of the present invention may be realized through the preparation of synthetic peptides which include modified and/or extended epitopic/immunogenic core sequences which result in a "universal" epitopic peptide directed to Borrelia VMP-like and Borrelia VMP-like-related sequences. It is proposed that these regions represent those which are most likely to promote T-cell or B-cell stimulation in an animal, and, hence, elicit specific antibody production in such an animal.

An epitopic core sequence, as used herein, is a relatively short stretch of amino acids that is "complementary" to, and therefore will bind, antigen binding sites on vls protein-specific antibodies. Additionally or alternatively, an epitopic core sequence is one that will elicit antibodies that are cross-reactive with antibodies directed against the peptide compositions of the present invention. It will be understood that in the context of the present disclosure, the term "complementary" refers to amino acids or peptides that exhibit an attractive force towards each other. Thus, certain epitope core sequences of the present invention may be operationally defined in terms of their ability to compete with or perhaps displace the binding of the desired protein antigen with the corresponding protein-directed antisera.

In general, the size of the polypeptide antigen is not believed to be particularly crucial, so long as it is at least large enough to carry the identified core sequence or sequences. The smallest useful core sequence expected by the present disclosure would generally be on the order of about 5 amino acids in length, with sequences on the order of 8 or 25 being more preferred. Thus, this size will generally correspond to the smallest peptide antigens prepared in accordance with the invention. However, the size of the antigen may be larger where desired, so long as it contains a basic epitopic core sequence.

The identification of epitopic core sequences is known to those of skill in the art, for example, as described in U.S. Pat. No. 4,554,101, incorporated herein by reference, which teaches the identification and preparation of epitopes from amino acid sequences on the basis of hydrophilicity. Moreover, numerous computer programs are available for use in predicting antigenic portions of proteins (see e.g., Jameson and Wolf, 1988; Wolf et al., 1988). Computerized peptide sequence analysis programs (e.g., DNAStar.RTM. software, DNAStar, Inc., Madison, Wis.) may also be useful in designing synthetic Borrelia VMP-like peptides and peptide analogs in accordance with the present disclosure. In addition, epitope mapping may be performed, in which overlapping peptides corresponding to all regions of the protein are synthesized and tested for reactivity with antibodies directed against vls sequences. Reactivity of serum from animals or humans infected with Lyme disease Borrelia, and nonreactivity with serum from animals or patients that do not have Lyme disease would help to define those peptides that react sensitively and specifically with antibodies against Lyme disease Borrelia.

An epitopic core sequence may be comprised within a larger polypeptide. For example, an epitopic core sequence of the present invention may be comprised in a larger polypeptide, which also comprises a moiety that is useful for anchoring the polypeptide to the selected surface. The anchoring moiety may be an amino acid sequence. These polypeptides would be particularly useful in the various immunoassay methods of the present invention. In a particular example, a peptide or polypeptide of the present invention may have a cysteine added at one end of the amino acid sequence to permit the addition of biotin. The biotinylated peptides or polypeptides could then be captured on streptavidin-coated surfaces. Those of skill in the art would know how to identify which polypeptides react sensitively and specifically with antibodies against Lyme disease Borrelia. For example, reactivity of serum from animals or humans infected with Lyme disease Borrelia, and nonreactivity with serum from animals or patients that do not have Lyme disease would help to define those polypeptides that react sensitively and specifically with antibodies against Lyme disease Borrelia.

Syntheses of epitopic sequences, or peptides which include an antigenic epitope within their sequence, are readily achieved using conventional synthetic techniques such as the solid phase method (e.g., through the use of commercially available peptide synthesizer such as an Applied Biosystems Model 430A Peptide Synthesizer). Peptide antigens synthesized in this manner may then be aliquoted in predetermined amounts and stored in conventional manners, such as in aqueous solutions or, even more preferably, in a powder or lyophilized state pending use.

In general, due to the relative stability of peptides, they may be readily stored in aqueous solutions for fairly long periods of time if desired, e.g., up to six months or more, in virtually any aqueous solution without appreciable degradation or loss of antigenic activity. However, where extended aqueous storage is contemplated it will generally be desirable to include agents including buffers such as Tris or phosphate buffers to maintain a pH of about 7.0 to about 7.5. Moreover, it may be desirable to include agents which will inhibit microbial growth, such as sodium azide or Merthiolate. For extended storage in an aqueous state it will be desirable to store the solutions at 4.degree. C., or more preferably, frozen. Of course, where the peptides are stored in a lyophilized or powdered state, they may be stored virtually indefinitely, e.g., in metered aliquots that may be rehydrated with a predetermined amount of water (preferably distilled) or buffer prior to use.

E. Antibodies

Means for preparing and characterizing antibodies are well known in the art (See, e.g., Harlow and Lane, 1988; incorporated herein by reference). An antibody can be a polyclonal or a monoclonal antibody.

The methods for generating monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) generally begin along the same lines as those for preparing polyclonal antibodies. Briefly, a polyclonal antibody is prepared by immunizing an animal with an immunogenic composition in accordance with the present invention and collecting antisera from that immunized animal. A wide range of animal species can be used for the production of antisera. Typically the animal used for production of anti-antisera is a rabbit, a mouse, a rat, a hamster, a guinea pig or a goat. Because of the relatively large blood volume of rabbits, a rabbit is a preferred choice for production of polyclonal antibodies.

As is well known in the art, a given composition may vary in its immunogenicity. It is often necessary therefore to boost the host immune system, as may be achieved by coupling a peptide or polypeptide immunogen to a carrier. Exemplary and preferred carriers are keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH) and bovine serum albumin (BSA). Other albumins such as ovalbumin, mouse serum albumin or rabbit serum albumin can also be used as carriers. Means for conjugating a polypeptide to a carrier protein are well known in the art and include glutaraldehyde, m-maleimidobenzoyl-N-hydroxysuccinimide ester, carbodiimide and bis-biazotized benzidine.

As is also well known in the art, the immunogenicity of a particular immunogen composition can be enhanced by the use of non-specific stimulators of the immune response, known as adjuvants. Exemplary and preferred adjuvants include complete Freund's adjuvant (a non-specific stimulator of the immune response containing killed Mycobacterium tuberculosis), incomplete Freund's adjuvant and aluminum hydroxide adjuvant.

The amount of immunogen composition used in the production of polyclonal antibodies varies upon the nature of the immunogen as well as the animal used for immunization. A variety of routes can be used to administer the immunogen (subcutaneous, intramuscular, intradermal, intravenous and intraperitoneal). The production of polyclonal antibodies may be monitored by sampling blood of the immunized animal at various points following immunization. A second, booster, injection may also be given. The process of boosting and titering is repeated until a suitable titer is achieved. When a desired level of immunogenicity is obtained, the immunized animal can be bled and the serum isolated and stored, and/or the animal can be used to generate mAbs.

mAbs may be readily prepared through use of well-known techniques, such as those exemplified in U.S. Pat. No. 4,196,265, incorporated herein by reference. Typically, this technique involves immunizing a suitable animal with a selected immunogen composition, e.g. a purified or partially purified LCRF protein, polypeptide or peptide. The immunizing composition is administered in a manner effective to stimulate antibody producing cells. Rodents such as mice and rats are preferred animals, however, the use of rabbit, sheep, or frog cells is also possible. The use of rats may provide certain advantages (Goding, 1986), but mice are preferred, with the BALB/c mouse being most preferred as this is most routinely used and generally gives a higher percentage of stable fusions.

Following immunization, somatic cells with the potential for producing antibodies, specifically B-lymphocytes (3-cells), are selected for use in the mAb generating protocol. These cells may be obtained from biopsied spleens, tonsils or lymph nodes, or from a peripheral blood sample. Spleen cells and peripheral blood cells are preferred, the former because they are a rich source of antibody-producing cells that are in the dividing plasmablast stage, and the latter because peripheral blood is easily accessible. Often, a panel of animals will have been immunized and the spleen of animal with the highest antibody titer will be removed and the spleen lymphocytes obtained by homogenizing the spleen with a syringe. Typically, a spleen from an immunized mouse contains approximately 5.times.10.sup.7 to 2.times.10.sup.8 lymphocytes.

The antibody-producing B lymphocytes from the immunized animal are then fused with cells of an immortal myeloma cell, generally one of the same species as the animal that was immunized. Myeloma cell lines suited for use in hybridoma-producing fusion procedures preferably are non-antibody-producing, have high fusion efficiency, and enzyme deficiencies that render then incapable of growing in certain selective media which support the growth of only the desired fused cells (hybridomas).

Any one of a number of myeloma cells may be used, as are known to those of skill in the art (Goding, 1986; Campbell, 1984). For example, where the immunized animal is a mouse, one may use P3-X63/Ag8, X63-Ag8.653, NS1/1.Ag 41, Sp210-Ag14, FO, NSO/U, MPC-11, MPC11-X45-GTG 1.7 and S194/5XX0 Bul; for rats, one may use R210.RCY3, Y3-Ag 1.2.3, IR983F and 4B210; and U-266, GM1500-GRG2, LICR-LON-HMy2 and UC729-6 are all useful in connection with human cell fusions.

One preferred murine myeloma cell is the NS-1 myeloma cell line (also termed P3-NS-1-Ag4-1), which is readily available from the NIGMS Human Genetic Mutant Cell Repository by requesting cell line repository number GM3573. Another mouse myeloma cell line that may be used is the 8-azaguanine-resistant mouse murine myeloma SP2/0 non-producer cell line.

Methods for generating hybrids of antibody-producing spleen or lymph node cells and myeloma cells usually comprise mixing somatic cells with myeloma cells in a 2:1 ratio, though the ratio may vary from about 20:1 to about 1:1, respectively, in the presence of an agent or agents (chemical or electrical) that promote the fusion of cell membranes. Fusion methods using Sendai virus have been described (Kohler and Milstein, 1975; 1976), and those using polyethylene glycol (PEG), such as 37% (v/v) PEG, by Gefter et al., (1977). The use of electrically induced fusion methods is also appropriate (Goding, 1986).

Fusion procedures usually produce viable hybrids at low frequencies, about 1.times.10.sup.-6 to 1.times.10.sup.-8. However, this does not pose a problem, as the viable, fused hybrids are differentiated from the parental, unfused cells (particularly the unfused myeloma cells that would normally continue to divide indefinitely) by culturing in a selective medium. The selective medium is generally one that contains an agent that blocks the de novo synthesis of nucleotides in the tissue culture media Exemplary and preferred agents are aminopterin, methotrexate, and azaserine. Aminopterin and methotrexate block de novo synthesis of both purines and pyrimidines, whereas azaserine blocks only purine synthesis. Where aminopterin or methotrexate is used, the media is supplemented with hypoxanthine and thymidine as a source of nucleotides (HAT medium). Where azaserine is used, the media is supplemented with hypoxanthine.

The preferred selection medium is HAT. Only cells capable of operating nucleotide salvage pathways are able to survive in HAT medium. The myeloma cells are defective in key enzymes of the salvage pathway, e.g., hypoxanthine phosphoribosyl transferase (HPRT), and they cannot survive. The B-cells can operate this pathway, but they have a limited life span in culture and generally die within about two weeks. Therefore, the only cells that can survive in the selective media are those hybrids formed from myeloma and B-cells.

This culturing provides a population of hybridomas from which specific hybridomas are selected. Typically, selection of hybridomas is performed by culturing the cells by single-clone dilution in microtiter plates, followed by testing the individual clonal supernatants (after about two to three weeks) for the desired reactivity. The assay should be sensitive, simple and rapid, such as radioimmunoassays, enzyme immunoassays, cytotoxicity assays, plaque assays, dot immunobinding assays, and the like.

The selected hybridomas would then be serially diluted and cloned into individual antibody-producing cell lines, which clones can then be propagated indefinitely to provide mAbs. The cell lines may be exploited for mAb production in two basic ways. A sample of the hybridoma can be injected (often into the peritoneal cavity) into a histocompatible animal of the type that was used to provide the somatic and myeloma cells for the original fusion. The injected animal develops tumors secreting the specific monoclonal antibody produced by the fused cell hybrid. The body fluids of the animal, such as serum or ascites fluid, can then be tapped to provide mAbs in high concentration. The individual cell lines could also be cultured in vitro, where the mAbs are naturally secreted into the culture medium from which they can be readily obtained in high concentrations. mAbs produced by either means may be further purified, if desired, using filtration, centrifugation and various chromatographic methods such as HPLC or affinity chromatography.

F. Immunoprecipitation

The antibodies of the present invention are particularly useful for the isolation of antigens by immunoprecipitation. Immunoprecipitation involves the separation of the target antigen-antibody complexes from a complex mixture, and is used to discriminate or isolate minute amounts of protein. For the isolation of membrane proteins cells must be solubilized into detergent micelles. Nonionic detergents are preferred, since other agents, such as bile salts, precipitate at acid pH or in the presence of bivalent cations.

In an alternative embodiment the antibodies of the present invention are useful for the close juxtaposition of two antigens. This is particularly useful for increasing the localized concentration of antigens, e.g., enzyme-substrate pairs.

G. Western Blots

The compositions of the present invention will find great use in immunoblot or western blot analysis. The anti-Borrelia VMP-like antibodies may be used as high-affinity primary reagents for the identification of proteins immobilized onto a solid support matrix, such as nitrocellulose, nylon or combinations thereof. In conjunction with immunoprecipitation, followed by gel electrophoresis, these may be used as a single step reagent for use in detecting antigens against which secondary reagents used in the detection of the antigen cause an adverse background. This is especially useful when the antigens studied are immunoglobulins (precluding the use of immunoglobulins binding bacterial cell wall components), the antigens studied cross-react with the detecting agent, or they migrate at the same relative molecular weight as a cross-reacting signal.

Immunologically-based detection methods for use in conjunction with Western blotting include enzymatically-, radiolabel-, or fluorescently-tagged secondary antibodies against the toxin moiety are considered to be of particular use in this regard.

H. Vaccines

An important aspect of the invention is the recognition that Borrelia VMP-like sequences recombine at the vlsE site, with the result that antigenic variation is virtually limitless. Multiclonal populations therefore can exist in an infected patient so that immunological defenses are severely tested if not totally overwhelmed. Thus there is now the opportunity to develop more effective combinations of immunogens for protection against Borrelia infections or as preventive inoculations such as in the form of cocktails of multiple antigenic variants based on a series of combinatorial VMP-like antigens.

VMP-like protein preparations may be administered in several ways, either locally or systemically in pharmaceutically acceptable formulations. Amounts appropriate for administration are determined on an individual basis depending on such factors as age and sex of the subject, as well as physical condition and weight. Such determinations are well within the skill of the practitioner in the medical field.

Other methods of administration may include injection of Borrelia VMP-like DNAs into vaccine recipients (human or animal) driven by an appropriate promoter such as CMV, (so called DNA vaccines). Such preparations could be injected subcutaneously or intramuscularly, administered orally, or introduced into the skin on metal particles propelled by high-pressure gas. DNA vaccination techniques are currently well past the initial development stage and have shown promise as vaccination strategies.

The present invention contemplates vaccines for use in both active and passive immunization embodiments. Immunogenic compositions, proposed to be suitable for use as a vaccine, may be prepared most directly from immunogenic Borrelia VMP-like peptides prepared in a manner disclosed herein. Preferably the antigenic material is extensively dialyzed to remove undesired small molecular weight molecules and/or lyophilized for more ready formulation into a desired vehicle.

The preparation of vaccines which contain Borrelia VMP-like peptide or polypeptide sequences as active ingredients is generally well understood in the art, as exemplified by U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,608,251; 4,601,903; 4,599,231; 4,599,230; 4,596,792; and 4,578,770, all incorporated herein by reference. Typically, such vaccines are prepared as injectables. Either as liquid solutions or suspensions: solid forms suitable for solution in, or suspension in, liquid prior to injection may also be prepared. The preparation may also be emulsified. The active immunogenic ingredient is often mixed with excipients which are pharmaceutically acceptable and compatible with the active ingredient. Suitable excipients are, for example, water, saline, dextrose, glycerol, ethanol, or the like and combinations thereof. In addition, if desired, the vaccine may contain auxiliary substances such as wetting or emulsifying agents, pH buffering agents, or adjuvants which enhance the effectiveness of the vaccines.

Vaccines may be conventionally administered parenterally, by injection, for example, either subcutaneously or intramuscularly. Vaccines may also be adminstered orally. Oral formulations include such normally employed excipients as, for example, pharmaceutical grades of mannitol, lactose, starch, magnesium stearate, sodium saccharine, cellulose, magnesium carbonate and the like. These compositions take the form of solutions, suspensions, tablets, pills, capsules, sustained release formulations or powders and contain about 10 to about 95% of active ingredient, preferably about 25 to about 70%.

The Borrelia VMP-like-derived peptides or polypeptides of the present invention may be formulated into the vaccine as neutral or salt forms. It is anticipated that many VMP-like-derived peptides or polypeptides with different sequences could be incorporated into a single vaccine, in effect producing a combinatorial vaccine. Pharmaceutically-acceptable salts, include the acid addition salts (formed with the free amino groups of the peptide) and those which are formed with inorganic acids such as, for example, hydrochloric or phosphoric acids, or such organic acids as acetic, oxalic, tartaric, mandelic, and the like. Salts formed with the free carboxyl groups may also be derived from inorganic bases such as, for example, sodium, potassium, ammonium, calcium, or ferric hydroxides, and such organic bases as isopropylamine, trimethylamine, 2-ethylamino ethanol, histidine, procaine, and the like.

The vaccines are administered in a manner compatible with the dosage formulation, and in such amount as will be therapeutically effective and immunogenic. The quantity to be administered depends on the subject to be treated, including, e.g., the capacity of the individual's immune system to synthesize antibodies, and the degree of protection desired. Precise amounts of active ingredient required to be administered depend on the judgment of the practitioner. However, suitable dosage ranges are of the order of several hundred micrograms active ingredient per vaccination. Suitable regimes for initial administration and booster shots are also variable, but are typified by an initial administration followed by subsequent inoculations or other administrations.

The manner of application may be varied widely. Any of the conventional methods for administration of a vaccine are applicable. These are believed to include oral application on a solid physiologically acceptable base or in a physiologically acceptable dispersion, parenterally, by injection or the like. The dosage of the vaccine will depend on the route of administration and will vary according to the size of the host.

Various methods of achieving adjuvant effect for the vaccine includes use of agents such as aluminum hydroxide or phosphate (alum), commonly used as about 0.05 to about 0.1% solution in phosphate buffered saline, admixture with synthetic polymers of sugars (Carbopol.RTM.) used as an about 0.25% solution, aggregation of the protein in the vaccine by heat treatment with temperatures ranging between about 70.degree. to about 101.degree. C. for a 30-second to 2-minute period, respectively. Aggregation by reactivating with pepsin treated (Fab) antibodies to albumin, mixture with bacterial cells such as C. parvum or endotoxins or lipopolysaccharide components of Gram-negative bacteria, emulsion in physiologically acceptable oil vehicles such as mannide mono-oleate (Aracel A) or emulsion with a 20% solution of a perfluorocarbon (Fluosol-DA.RTM.) used as a block substitute may also be employed.

In many instances, it will be desirable to have multiple administrations of the vaccine, usually not exceeding six vaccinations, more usually not exceeding four vaccinations and preferably one or more, usually at least about three vaccinations. The vaccinations will normally be at from two to twelve week intervals, more usually from three to five week intervals. Periodic boosters at intervals of 1-5 years, usually three years, will be desirable to maintain protective levels of the antibodies. The course of the immunization may be followed by assays for antibodies for the supernatant antigens. The assays may be performed by labeling with conventional labels, such as radionucleotides, enzymes, fluorescents, and the like. These techniques are well known and may be found in a wide variety of patents, such as U.S. Pat. Nos. 3,791,932; 4,174,384 and 3,949,064, as illustrative of these types of assays.

I. Nucleic Acids

The present invention provides the nucleotide sequences of the vls gene in B. garinii and B. afzelii. It is contemplated that the isolated nucleic acids of the present invention may be put under the control of a promoter. The promoter may be the promoter that is naturally associated with the vls gene or it may be a recombinant or heterologous promoter. As used herein, a recombinant or heterologous promoter is intended to refer to a promoter that is not normally associated with a DNA segment encoding a Borrelia VMP-like peptide in its natural environment. Such promoters may include promoters normally associated with other genes, and/or promoters isolated from any viral, prokaryotic (e.g., bacterial), eukaryotic (e.g., fungal, yeast, plant, or animal) cell.

Naturally, it will be important to employ a promoter that effectively directs the expression of the DNA segment in the cell type, organism, or even animal, chosen for expression. The use of promoter and cell type combinations for protein expression is generally known to those of skill in the art of molecular biology, for example, see Sambrook et al., 2001. The promoters employed may be constitutive, or inducible, and can be used under the appropriate conditions to direct high level expression of the introduced DNA segment, such as is advantageous in the large-scale production of recombinant proteins or peptides. Appropriate promoter/expression systems contemplated for use in high-level expression include, but are not limited to, the Pichia expression vector system (Pharmacia LKB Biotechnology), a baculovirus system for expression in insect cells, or any suitable yeast or bacterial expression system.

In connection with expression embodiments to prepare recombinant proteins and peptides, it is contemplated that longer DNA segments will most often be used; with DNA segments encoding the entire peptide sequence being most preferred. However, it will be appreciated that the use of shorter DNA segments to direct the expression of Borrelia VMP-like peptides or epitopic core regions, such as may be used to generate anti-Borrelia VMP-like antibodies, also falls within the scope of the invention. DNA segments that encode Borrelia VMP-like peptide antigens from about 10 to about 100 amino acids in length, or more preferably, from about 20 to about 80 amino acids in length, or even more preferably, from about 30 to about 70 amino acids in length are contemplated to be particularly useful.

In addition to their use in directing the expression of Borrelia VMP-like peptides of the present invention, the nucleic acid sequences contemplated herein also have a variety of other uses. For example, they also have utility as probes or primers in nucleic acid hybridization embodiments. As such, it is contemplated that nucleic acid segments that comprise a sequence region that consists of at least about a 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, or 19 nucleotide long contiguous sequence that has the same sequence as, or is complementary to, an about 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 nucleotide long contiguous DNA segment of SEQ ID NO:5, SEQ ID NO:7, SEQ ID NO:9, SEQ ID NO:11, SEQ ID NO:13, SEQ ID NO:15, SEQ ID NO:17, SEQ ID NO:19, SEQ ID NO:28, SEQ ID NO:29, SEQ ID NO:31, SEQ ID NO:33, SEQ ID NO:35, SEQ ID NO:37, SEQ ID NO:39, SEQ ID NO:41, SEQ ID NO:43, SEQ ID NO:45, SEQ ID NO:47, SEQ ID NO:49, SEQ ID NO:51, SEQ ID NO:53, SEQ ID NO:55, SEQ ID NO:57, SEQ ID NO:58, SEQ ID NO:60, SEQ ID NO:62, SEQ ID NO:64, SEQ ID NO:66, SEQ ID NO:68, SEQ ID NO:70, SEQ ID NO:72, SEQ ID NO:74, SEQ ID NO:76, SEQ ID NO:78, SEQ ID NO:80, SEQ ID NO:82, SEQ ID NO:84, SEQ ID NO:88, SEQ ID NO:89, SEQ ID NO:90, SEQ ID NO:92, SEQ ID NO:94, and SEQ ID NO:96 will find particular utility. Longer contiguous identical or complementary sequences, e.g., those of about 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 120, 125, 150, 175, 200, 300, 400, 500, (including all intermediate lengths) and those up to and including full-length sequences will also be of use in certain embodiments.

The ability of such nucleic acid probes to specifically hybridize to Borrelia VMP-like-encoding sequences will enable them to be of use in detecting the presence of complementary sequences in a given sample. However, other uses are envisioned, including the use of the sequence information for the preparation of mutant species primers, or primers for use in preparing other genetic constructions.

Nucleic acid molecules having sequence regions consisting of contiguous nucleotide stretches of about 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 120, 125, 150, 175, 200, 300, 400, 500 or more, identical or complementary to the DNA sequence of SEQ ID NO:5, SEQ ID NO:7, SEQ ID NO:9, SEQ ID NO:11, SEQ ID NO:13, SEQ ID NO:15, SEQ ID NO:17, SEQ ID NO:19, SEQ ID NO:28, SEQ ID NO:29, SEQ ID NO:31, SEQ ID NO:33, SEQ ID NO:35, SEQ ID NO:37, SEQ ID NO:39, SEQ ID NO:41, SEQ ID NO:43, SEQ ID NO:45, SEQ ID NO:47, SEQ ID NO:49, SEQ ID NO:51, SEQ ID NO:53, SEQ ID NO:55, SEQ ID NO:57, SEQ ID NO:58, SEQ ID NO:60, SEQ ID NO:62, SEQ ID NO:64, SEQ ID NO:66, SEQ ID NO:68, SEQ ID NO:70, SEQ ID NO:72, SEQ ID NO:74, SEQ ID NO:76, SEQ ID NO:78, SEQ ID NO:80, SEQ ID NO:82, SEQ ID NO:84, SEQ ID NO:88, SEQ ID NO:89, SEQ ID NO:90, SEQ ID NO:92, SEQ ID NO:94, and SEQ ID NO:96, are particularly contemplated as hybridization probes for use in, e.g., Southern and Northern blotting. Smaller fragments will generally find use in hybridization embodiments, wherein the length of the contiguous complementary region may be varied, such as between about 10-14 and up to about 100 nucleotides, but larger contiguous complementary stretches may be used, according to the length complementary sequences one wishes to detect.

The use of a hybridization probe of about 14 nucleotides in length allows the formation of a duplex molecule that is both stable and selective. Molecules having contiguous complementary sequences over stretches greater than 14 bases in length are generally preferred, though, in order to increase stability and selectivity of the hybrid, and thereby improve the quality and degree of specific hybrid molecules obtained. One will generally prefer to design nucleic acid molecules having gene-complementary stretches of about 15 to about 20 contiguous nucleotides, or even longer where desired.

Of course, fragments may also be obtained by other techniques such as, e.g. by mechanical shearing or by restriction enzyme digestion. Small nucleic acid segments or fragments may be readily prepared by, for example, directly synthesizing the fragment by chemical means, as is commonly practiced using an automated oligonucleotide synthesizer. Also, fragments may be obtained by application of nucleic acid reproduction technology, such as PCR.TM., by introducing selected sequences into recombinant vectors for recombinant production, and by other recombinant DNA techniques generally known to those of skill in the art of molecular biology.

Accordingly, the nucleotide sequences of the invention may be used for their ability to selectively form duplex molecules with complementary stretches of DNA fragments. Depending on the application envisioned, one will desire to employ varying conditions of hybridization to achieve varying degrees of selectivity of probe towards target sequence. For applications requiring high selectivity, one will typically desire to employ relatively stringent conditions to form the hybrids, e.g., conditions of high stringency where one will select relatively low salt and/or high temperature conditions, such as provided by about 0.02 M to about 0.15 M NaCl at temperatures of about 50.degree. C. to about 70.degree. C. Such selective conditions tolerate little, if any, mismatch between the probe and the template or target strand, and would be particularly suitable for isolating Borrelia VMP-like-encoding DNA segments. Detection of DNA segments via hybridization is well-known to those of skill in the art, and the teachings of U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,965,188 and 5,176,995 (each incorporated herein by reference) are exemplary of the methods of hybridization analyses. Teachings such as those found in the texts of Maloy et al., 1994; Segal, 1976; Prokop, 1991; and Kuby, 1994, are particularly relevant.

Of course, for some applications, for example, where one desires to prepare mutants employing a mutant primer strand hybridized to an underlying template or where one seeks to isolate Borrelia VMP-like-encoding sequences from related species, functional equivalents, or the like, less stringent hybridization conditions will typically be needed in order to allow formation of the heteroduplex. In these circumstances, one may desire to employ conditions such as about 0.15 M to about 0.9 M salt, at temperatures ranging from about 20.degree. C. to about 55.degree. C. Cross-hybridizing species can thereby be readily identified as positively hybridizing signals with respect to control hybridizations in any case, it is generally appreciated that conditions can be rendered more stringent by the addition of increasing amounts of formamide, which serves to destabilize the hybrid duplex in the same manner as increased temperature. Thus, hybridization conditions can be readily manipulated, and thus will generally be a method of choice depending on the desired results.

In certain embodiments, it will be advantageous to employ nucleic acid sequences of the present invention in combination with an appropriate means, such as a label, for determining hybridization. A wide variety of appropriate indicator means are known in the art, including fluorescent, radioactive, enzymatic or other ligands, such as avidin/biotin, which are capable of giving a detectable signal. In preferred embodiments, one will likely desire to employ a fluorescent label or an enzyme tag, such as urease, alkaline phosphatase or peroxidase, instead of radioactive or other environmental undesirable reagents. In the case of enzyme tags, calorimetric indicator substrates are known that can be employed to provide a means visible to the human eye or spectrophotometrically, to identify specific hybridization with complementary nucleic acid-containing samples.

In general, it is envisioned that the hybridization probes described herein will be useful both as reagents in solution hybridization as well as in embodiments employing a solid phase. In embodiments involving a solid phase, the test DNA (or RNA) is adsorbed or otherwise affixed to a selected matrix or surface. This fixed, single-stranded nucleic acid is then subjected to specific hybridization with selected probes under desired conditions. The selected conditions will depend on the particular circumstances based on the particular criteria required (depending, for example, on the G+C content, type of target nucleic acid, source of nucleic acid, size of hybridization probe, etc.). Following washing of the hybridized surface so as to remove nonspecifically bound probe molecules, specific hybridization is detected, or even quantitated, by means of the label.

Isolated nucleic acids encoding vls or vls-related genes are contemplated to be particularly useful in connection with this invention. Any recombinant vls combining any of the vlsE expression site loci and/or silent vls cassette would likewise be very useful with the methods of the invention.

Isolation of the DNA encoding VMP-like polypeptides allows one to use methods well known to those of skill in the art, and as herein described, to make changes in the codons for specific amino acids such that the codons are "preferred usage" codons for a given species. Thus for example, preferred codons will vary significantly for bacterial species as compared with mammalian species; however, there are preferences even among related species. Shown below is a preferred codon usage table for humans. Isolation of spirochete DNA encoding VMP-like proteins will allow substitutions for preferred human codons, although expressed polypeptide product from human DNA is expected to be homologous to bacterial VMP-like proteins and so would be expected to be structurally and functionally equivalent to VMP-like proteins isolated from a spirochete. However, substitutions of preferred human codons may improve expression in the human host, thereby improving the efficiency of potential DNA vaccines. This method may also be useful in achieving improved expression of the recombinant VMP-like protein in E. coli or any of a variety of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells.

The definition of a "VMP-like sequence" or "VMP-related gene" as used herein, is a gene that hybridizes, under relatively stringent hybridization conditions (see, e.g., Sambrook et al., 2001), to DNA sequences presently known to include related gene sequences.

To prepare a VMP-like gene segment or cDNA one may follow the teachings disclosed herein and also the teachings of any patents or scientific documents specifically referenced herein. One may obtain a rVMP- or other related-encoding DNA segments using molecular biological techniques, such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR.TM.) or screening of a cDNA or genomic library, using primers or probes with sequences based on the above nucleotide sequence. Such single- or double-stranded DNA segments may be readily prepared by, for example, directly synthesizing the fragments by chemical means, by application of nucleic acid reproduction technology, such as the PCR.TM. technology of U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,683,195 and 4,683,202 (herein incorporated by reference). The practice of these techniques is a routine matter for those of skill in the art, as taught in various scientific texts (see e.g., Sambrook et al., 2001), incorporated herein by reference. Certain documents further particularly describe suitable mammalian expression vectors, e.g., U.S. Pat. No. 5,168,050, incorporated herein by reference. The VMP-like genes and DNA segments that are particularly preferred for use in certain aspects of the present methods are those encoding VWP-like and VMP-related polypeptides.

It is also contemplated that one may clone other additional genes or cDNAs that encode a VMP-like or VMP-related peptide, protein or polypeptide. The techniques for cloning DNA molecules, i.e., obtaining a specific coding sequence from a DNA library that is distinct from other portions of DNA, are well known in the art. This can be achieved by, for example, screening an appropriate DNA library which relates to the cloning of a vls gene such as from the variable region of that gene. The screening procedure may be based on the hybridization of oligonucleotide probes, designed from a consideration of portions of the amino acid sequence of known DNA sequences encoding related Borrelia proteins. The operation of such screening protocols is well known to those of skill in the art and are described in detail in the scientific literature, for example, see Sambrook et al., 2001.

Techniques for introducing changes in nucleotide sequences that are designed to alter the functional properties of the encoded proteins or polypeptides are well known in the art, e.g., U.S. Pat. No. 4,518,584, incorporated herein by reference, which techniques are also described in further detail herein. Such modifications include the deletion, insertion or substitution of bases, which may or may not result in changes in the amino acid sequence. Changes may be made to increase the activity of a protein, to increase its biological stability or half-life, to change its glycosylation pattern, and the like. All such modifications to the nucleotide sequences are encompassed by this invention.

I. Biological Functional Equivalents

Modification and changes may be made in the structure of the peptides of the present invention and DNA segments which encode them and still obtain a functional molecule that encodes a protein or peptide with desirable characteristics. The following is a discussion based upon changing the amino acids of a protein to create an equivalent, or even an improved, second-generation molecule. The amino acid changes may be achieved by changing the codons of the DNA sequence, according to the following codon table -- see Original Patent.

For example, certain amino acids may be substituted for other amino acids in a protein structure without appreciable loss of interactive binding capacity with structures such as, for example, antigen-binding regions of antibodies or binding sites on substrate molecules. Since it is the interactive capacity and nature of a protein that defines that protein's biological functional activity, certain amino acid sequence substitutions can be made in a protein sequence, and, of course, its underlying DNA coding sequence, and nevertheless obtain a protein with like properties. It is thus contemplated by the inventors that various changes may be made in the peptide sequences of the disclosed compositions, or corresponding DNA sequences which encode said peptides without appreciable loss of their biological utility or activity.

In making such changes, the hydropathic index of amino acids may be considered. The importance of the hydropathic amino acid index in conferring interactive biologic function on a protein is generally understood in the art (Kyte and Doolittle, 1982, incorporate herein by reference). It is accepted that the relative hydropathic character of the amino acid contributes to the secondary structure of the resultant protein, which in turn defines the interaction of the protein with other molecules, for example, enzymes, substrates, receptors, DNA, antibodies, antigens, and the like.

Each amino acid has been assigned a hydropathic index on the basis of their hydrophobicity and charge characteristics byte and Doolittle, 1982), these are: isoleucine (+4.5); valine (+4.2); leucine (+3.8); phenylalanine (+2.8); cysteine/cystine (+2.5); methionine (+1.9); alanine (+1.8); glycine (-0.4); threonine (-0.7); serine (-0.8); tryptophan (-0.9); tyrosine (-1.3); proline (-1.6); histidine (-3.2); glutamate (-3.5); glutamine (-3.5); aspartate (-3.5); asparagine (-3.5); lysine (-3.9); and arginine (-4.5).

It is known in the art that certain amino acids may be substituted by other amino acids having a similar hydropathic index or score and still result in a protein with similar biological activity, i.e., still obtain a biological functionally equivalent protein. In malting such changes, the substitution of amino acids whose hydropathic indices are within .+-.2 is preferred, those which are within .+-.1 are particularly preferred, and those within .+-.0.5 are even more particularly preferred.

It is also understood in the art that the substitution of like amino acids can be made effectively on the basis of hydrophilicity. U.S. Pat. No. 4,554,101, incorporated herein by reference, states that the greatest local average hydrophilicity of a protein, as governed by the hydrophilicity of its adjacent amino acids, correlates with a biological property of the protein.

As detailed in U.S. Pat. No. 4,554,101, the following hydrophilicity values have been assigned to amino acid residues: arginine (+3.0); lysine (+3.0); aspartate (+3.0.+-.1); glutamate (+3.0.+-.1); serine (+0.3); asparagine (+0.2); glutamine (+0.2); glycine (0); threonine (-0.4); proline (-0.5.+-.1); alanine (-0.5); histidine (-0.5); cysteine (-1.0); methionine (-1.3); valine (-1.5); leucine (-1.8); isoleucine (-1.8); tyrosine (-2.3); phenylalanine (-2.5); tryptophan (-3.4).

It is understood that an amino acid can be substituted for another having a similar hydrophilicity value and still obtain a biologically equivalent, and in particular, an immunologically equivalent protein. In such changes, the substitution of amino acids whose hydrophilicity values are within .+-.2 is preferred, those which are within .+-.1 are particularly preferred, and those within .+-.0.5 are even more particularly preferred.

As outlined above, amino acid substitutions are generally therefore based on the relative similarity of the amino acid side-chain substituents, for example, their hydrophobicity, hydrophilicity, charge, size, and the like. Exemplary substitutions which take various of the foregoing characteristics into consideration are well known to those of skill in the art and include: arginine and lysine; glutamate and aspartate; serine and threonine; glutamine and asparagine; and valine, leucine and isoleucine.

J. Site-Specific Mutagenesis

Site-specific mutagenesis is a technique useful in the preparation of individual peptides, or biologically functional equivalent proteins or peptides, through specific mutagenesis of the underlying DNA. The technique further provides a ready ability to prepare and test sequence variants, for example, incorporating one or more of the foregoing considerations, by introducing one or more nucleotide sequence changes into the DNA. Site-specific mutagenesis allows the production of mutants through the use of specific oligonucleotide sequences which encode the DNA sequence of the desired mutation, as well as a sufficient number of adjacent nucleotides, to provide a primer sequence of sufficient size and sequence complexity to form a stable duplex on both sides of the deletion junction being traversed. Typically, a primer of about 17 to 25 nucleotides in length is preferred, with about 1 to 10 residues on both sides of the junction of the sequence being altered.

In general, the technique of site-specific mutagenesis is well known in the art, as exemplified by various publications. As will be appreciated, the technique typically employs a phage vector which exists in both a single stranded and double stranded form. Typical vectors useful in site-directed mutagenesis include vectors such as the M13 phage. These phage are readily commercially available and their use is generally well known to those skilled in the art. Double stranded plasmids are also routinely employed in site directed mutagenesis which eliminates the step of transferring the gene of interest from a plasmid to a phage.

In general, site-directed mutagenesis in accordance herewith is performed by first obtaining a single-stranded vector or melting apart of two strands of a double stranded vector which includes within its sequence a DNA sequence which encodes the desired peptide. An oligonucleotide primer bearing the desired mutated sequence is prepared, generally synthetically. This primer is then annealed with the single-stranded vector, and subjected to DNA polymerizing enzymes such as E. coli polymerase I Klenow fragment, in order to complete the synthesis of the mutation-bearing strand. Thus, a heteroduplex is formed wherein one strand encodes the original non-mutated sequence and the second strand bears the desired mutation. This heteroduplex vector is then used to transform appropriate cells, such as E. coli cells, and clones are selected which include recombinant vectors bearing the mutated sequence arrangement.

The preparation of sequence variants of the selected peptide-encoding DNA segments using site-directed mutagenesis is provided as a means of producing potentially useful species and is not meant to be limiting as there are other ways in which sequence variants of peptides and the DNA sequences encoding them may be obtained. For example, recombinant vectors encoding the desired peptide sequence may be treated with mutagenic agents, such as hydroxylamine, to obtain sequence variants.

H. Expression of VMP-Like Proteins

A particular aspect of this invention provides novel ways in which to utilize VMP-like DNA segments and recombinant vectors comprising vls DNA segments. As is well known to those of skill in the art, many such vectors are readily available, one particular detailed example of a suitable vector for expression in mammalian cells is that described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,168,050, incorporated herein by reference. However, there is no requirement that a highly purified vector be used, so long as the coding segment employed encodes a VMP-like protein and does not include any coding or regulatory sequences that would have an adverse effect on cells. Therefore, it will also be understood that useful nucleic acid sequences may include additional residues, such as additional non-coding sequences flanking either of the 5' or 3' portions of the coding including, for example, promoter regions, or may include various internal sequences, i.e., introns, which are known to occur within genes.

After identifying an appropriate VMP-encoding gene or DNA molecule, it may be inserted into any one of the many vectors currently known in the art, so that it will direct the expression and production of the VMP-like protein when incorporated into a host cell. In a recombinant expression vector, the coding portion of the DNA segment is positioned under the control of a promoter. The promoter may be in the form of the promoter which is naturally associated with a VMP-encoding gene, as may be obtained by isolating the 5' non-coding sequences located upstream of the coding segment, for example, using recombinant cloning and/or PCR.TM. technology, in connection with the compositions disclosed herein.

The use of recombinant promoters to achieve protein expression is generally known to those of skill in the art of molecular biology, for example, see Sambrook et al., (2001).

For the expression of VMP-like proteins, once a suitable (full-length if desired) clone or clones have been obtained, whether they be cDNA based or genomic, one may proceed to prepare an expression system for the recombinant preparation of VMP-like proteins. The engineering of DNA segment(s) for expression in a prokaryotic or eukaryotic system may be performed by techniques generally known to those of skill in recombinant expression. It is believed that virtually any expression system may be employed in the expression of VMP-like proteins.

VMP-like proteins may be successfully expressed in eukaryotic expression systems, however, it is also envisioned that bacterial expression systems may be preferred for the preparation of VMP-like proteins for all purposes. The DNA or cDNA encoding VMP-like proteins may be separately expressed in bacterial systems, with the encoded proteins being expressed as fusions with beta-galactosidase, ubiquitin, Schistosoma japonicum glutathione S-transferase, green fluorescent protein, polyhistidine and the like. It is believed that bacterial expression will ultimately have advantages over eukaryotic expression in terms of ease of use and quantity of materials obtained thereby.

It is proposed that transformation of host cells with DNA segments encoding VMP-like proteins will provide a convenient means for obtaining VMP-like peptides. Both cDNA and genomic sequences are suitable for eukaryotic expression, as the host cell will, of course, process the genomic transcripts to yield functional mRNA for translation into protein.

It is similarly believed that almost any eukaryotic expression system may be utilized for the expression of VMP-like proteins, e.g., baculovirus-based, glutamine synthase-based or dihydrofolate reductase-based systems could be employed. However, in preferred embodiments, it is contemplated that plasmid vectors incorporating an origin of replication and an efficient eukaryotic promoter, as exemplified by the eukaryotic vectors of the pCMV series, such as pCMV5, will be of most use.

For expression in this manner, one would position the coding sequences adjacent to and under the control of the promoter. It is understood in the art that to bring a coding sequence under the control of such a promoter, one positions the 5' end of the transcription initiation site of the transcriptional reading frame of the protein between about 1 and about 50 nucleotides "downstream" of (i.e., 3' of) the chosen promoter.

Where eukaryotic expression is contemplated, one will also typically desire to incorporate into the transcriptional unit which includes VMP-like protein, an appropriate polyadenylation site (e.g., 5'-AATAAA-3') if one was not contained within the original cloned segment. Typically, the poly A addition site is placed about 30 to 2000 nucleotides "downstream" of the termination site of the protein at a position prior to transcription termination.

Translational enhancers may also be incorporated as part of the vector DNA. Thus the DNA constructs of the present invention should also preferable contain one or more 5' non-translated leader sequences which may serve to enhance expression of the gene products from the resulting mRNA transcripts. Such sequences may be derived from the promoter selected to express the gene or can be specifically modified to increase translation of the RNA. Such regions may also be obtained from viral RNAs, from suitable eukaryotic genes, or from a synthetic gene sequence (Griffiths, et al., 1993).

Such "enhancer" sequences may be desirable to increase or alter the transcription of translational efficiency of the resultant mRNA. The present invention is not limited to constructs where the enhancer is derived from the native 5'-nontranslated promoter sequence, but may also include non-translated leader sequences derived from other non-related promoters such as other enhancer transcriptional activators or genes.

It is contemplated that virtually any of the commonly employed host cells can be used in connection with the expression of VMPs in accordance herewith. Examples include cell lines typically employed for eukaryotic expression such as 239, AtT-20, HepG2, VERO, HeLa, CHO, WI 38, BHK, COS-7, RIN and MDCK cell lines.

It is contemplated that VMP-like protein may be "overexpressed", i.e., expressed in increased levels relative to its natural expression in Borrelia cells, or even relative to the expression of other proteins in a recombinant host cell containing VMP-encoding DNA segments. Such overexpression may be assessed by a variety of methods, including radio-labeling and/or protein purification. However, simple and direct methods are preferred, for example, those involving SDS/PAGE and protein staining or Western blotting, followed by quantitative analyses, such as densitometric scanning of the resultant gel or blot. A specific increase in the level of the recombinant protein or peptide in comparison to the level in natural VMP-producing animal cells is indicative of overexpression, as is a relative abundance of the specific protein in relation to the other proteins produced by the host cell and, e.g. visible on a gel.

As used herein, the term "engineered" or "recombinant" cell is intended to refer to a cell into which a recombinant gene, such as a gene encoding a VMP-like peptide has been introduced. Therefore, engineered cells are distinguishable from naturally occurring cells which do not contain a recombinantly introduced gene. Engineered cells are thus cells having a gene or genes introduced through the hand of man. Recombinantly introduced genes will either be in the form of a cDNA gene (i.e., they will not contain introns), a copy of a genomic gene, or will include genes positioned adjacent to a promoter not naturally associated with the particular introduced gene.

It will be understood that recombinant VMP-like proteins may differ from naturally produced VMP-like proteins in certain ways. In particular, the degree of post-translational modifications, such as, for example, lipidation, glycosylation and phosphorylation may be different between the recombinant VMP-like and the VMP-like polypeptide purified from a natural source, such as Borrelia.

After identifying an appropriate DNA molecule by any or a combination of means as described above, the DNA may then be inserted into any one of the many vectors currently known in the art and transferred to a prokaryotic or eukaryotic host cell where it will direct the expression and production of the so-called "recombinant" version of the protein. The recombinant host cell may be selected from a group consisting of S. mutans, E. coli, S. cerevisiae. Bacillus sp., Lactococci sp., Enterococci sp., or Salmonella sp. In certain preferred embodiments, the recombinant host cell will have a recA phenotype.

Where the introduction of a recombinant version of one or more of the foregoing genes is required, it will be important to introduce the gene such that it is under the control of a promoter that effectively directs the expression of the gene in the cell type chosen for engineering. In general, one will desire to employ a promoter that allows constitutive (constant) expression of the gene of interest. The use of these constitutive promoters will ensure a high, constant level of expression of the introduced genes. The level of expression from the introduced genes of interest can vary in different clones, probably as a function of the site of insertion of the recombinant gene in the chromosomal DNA. Thus, the level of expression of a particular recombinant gene can be chosen by evaluating different clones derived from each transfection study; once that line is chosen, the constitutive promoter ensures that the desired level of expression is permanently maintained. It may also be possible to use promoters that are subject to regulation, such as those regulated by the presence of lactose analog or by the expression of bacteriophage T7 DNA polymerase.

Technology for introduction of DNA into cells is well-known to those of skill in the art. Five general methods for delivering a gene into cells have been described: (1) chemical methods (Graham and VanDerEb, 1973); (2) physical methods such as microinjection (Capecchi, 1980), electroporation (Wong and Neumann, 1982; Fromm et al., 1985) and the gene gun (Yang et al., 1990); (3) viral vectors (Clapp, 1993; Danos and Heard, 1992; Eglitis and Anderson, 1988); (4) receptor-mediated mechanisms (Wu et al., 1991; Curiel et al., 1991; Wagner et al., 1992); and (5) direct injection of purified DNA into human or animals.

G. Liposomes and Nanocapsules

The formation and use of liposomes is generally known to those of skill in the art (see for example, Couvreur et al., 1991 which describes the use of liposomes and nanocapsules in the targeted antibiotic therapy of intracellular bacterial infections and diseases). Recently, liposomes were developed with improved serum stability and circulation half-times of substances, including DNA (Gabizon and Papahadjopoulos, 1988; Allen and Choun, 1987). The following is a brief description of this and other DNA delivery modes.

Nanocapsules can generally entrap compounds in a stable and reproducible way (Henry-Michelland et al., 1987). To avoid side effects due to intracellular polymeric overloading, such ultrafine particles (sized around 0.1 mm) should be designed using polymers able to be degraded in vivo. Biodegradable polyalkyl-cyanoacrylate nanoparticles that meet these requirements are contemplated for use in the present invention, and such particles may be are easily made, as described (Couvreur et al., 1984; 1988).

Liposomes are formed from phospholipids that are dispersed in an aqueous medium and spontaneously form multilamellar concentric bilayer vesicles (also termed multilamellar vesicles (MLVs). MLVs generally have diameters ranging from 25 .mu.m to 4 .mu.m. Sonication of MLVs results in the formation of small unilamellar vesicles (SUVs) with diameters in the range of 200 to 500 .ANG., containing an aqueous solution in the core.

In addition to the teachings of Couvreur et al. (1991), the following information may be utilized in generating liposomal formulations. Phospholipids can form a variety of structures other than liposomes when dispersed in water, depending on the molar ratio of lipid to water. At low ratios the liposome is the preferred structure. The physical characteristics of liposomes depend on pH, ionic strength and the presence of divalent cations. Liposomes can show low permeability to ionic and polar substances, but at elevated temperatures undergo a phase transition which markedly alters their permeability. The phase transition involves a change from a closely packed, ordered structure, known as the gel state, to a loosely packed, less-ordered structure, known as the fluid state. This occurs at a characteristic phase-transition temperature and results in an increase in permeability to ions, sugars and drugs.

Liposomes interact with cells via four different mechanisms: Endocytosis by phagocytic cells of the reticuloendothelial system such as macrophages and neutrophils; adsorption to the cell surface, either by nonspecific weak hydrophobic or electrostatic forces, or by specific interactions with cell-surface components; fusion with the plasma cell membrane by insertion of the lipid bilayer of the liposome into the plasma membrane, with simultaneous release of liposomal contents into the cytoplasm; and by transfer of liposomal lipids to cellular or subcellular membranes, or vice versa, without any association of the liposome contents. It often is difficult to determine which mechanism is operative and more than one may operate at the same time.

L. Pharmaceutical Compositions

The pharmaceutical compositions disclosed herein may be orally administered, for example, with an inert diluent or with an assimilable edible carrier, or they may be enclosed in hard or soft shell gelatin capsule, or they may be compressed into tablets, or they may be incorporated directly with the food of the diet. For oral therapeutic administration, the active compounds may be incorporated with excipients and used in the form of ingestible tablets, buccal tables, troches, capsules, elixirs, suspensions, syrups, wafers, and the like. Such compositions and preparations should contain at least 0.1% of active compound. The percentage of the compositions and preparations may, of course, be varied and may conveniently be between about 2 to about 60% of the weight of the unit. The amount of active compounds in such therapeutically useful compositions is such that a suitable dosage will be obtained.

The tablets, troches, pills, capsules and the like may also contain the following: a binder, as gum tragacanth, acacia, cornstarch, or gelatin; excipients, such as dicalcium phosphate; a disintegrating agent, such as corn starch, potato starch, alginic acid and the like; a lubricant, such as magnesium stearate; and a sweetening agent, such as sucrose, lactose or saccharin may be added or a flavoring agent, such as peppermint, oil of wintergreen, or cherry flavoring. When the dosage unit form is a capsule, it may contain, in addition to materials of the above type, a liquid carrier. Various other materials may be present as coatings or to otherwise modify the physical foam of the dosage unit For instance, tablets, pills, or capsules may be coated with shellac, sugar or both. A syrup or elixir may contain the active compounds sucrose as a sweetening agent methyl and propylparabens as preservatives, a dye and flavoring, such as cherry or orange flavor. Of course, any material used in preparing any dosage unit form should be pharmaceutically pure and substantially non-toxic in the amounts employed. In addition, the active compounds may be incorporated into sustained-release preparation and formulations.

The active compounds may also be administered parenterally or intraperitoneally. Solutions of the active compounds as free base or pharmacologically acceptable salts can be prepared in water suitably mixed with a surfactant, such as hydroxypropylcellulose. Dispersions can also be prepared in glycerol, liquid polyethylene glycols, and mixtures thereof and in oils. Under ordinary conditions of storage and use, these preparations contain a preservative to prevent the growth of microorganisms.

The pharmaceutical forms suitable for injectable use include sterile aqueous solutions or dispersions and sterile powders for the extemporaneous preparation of sterile injectable solutions or dispersions. In all cases the form must be sterile and must be fluid to the extent that easy syringability exists. It must be stable under the conditions of manufacture and storage and must be preserved against the contaminating action of microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi. The carrier can be a solvent or dispersion medium containing, for example, water, ethanol, polyol (for example, glycerol, propylene glycol, and liquid polyethylene glycol, and the like), suitable mixtures thereof, and vegetable oils. The proper fluidity can be maintained, for example, by the use of a coating, such as lecithin, by the maintenance of the required particle size in the case of dispersion and by the use of surfactants. The prevention of the action of microorganisms can be brought about by various antibacterial ad antifungal agents, for example, parabens, chlorobutanol, phenol, sorbic acid, thimerosal, and the like. In many cases, it will be preferable to include isotonic agents, for example, sugars or sodium chloride. Prolonged absorption of the injectable compositions can be brought about by the use in the compositions of agents delaying absorption, for example, aluminum monostearate and gelatin.

Sterile injectable solutions are prepared by incorporating the active compounds in the required amount in the appropriate solvent with various of the other ingredients enumerated above, as required, followed by filtered sterilization. Generally, dispersions are prepared by incorporating the various sterilized active ingredients into a sterile vehicle which contains the basic dispersion medium and the required other ingredients from those enumerated above. In the case of sterile powders for the preparation of sterile injectable solutions, the preferred methods of preparation are vacuum-drying and freeze-drying techniques which yield a powder of the active ingredient plus any additional desired ingredient from a previously sterile-filtered solution thereof.

As used herein, "pharmaceutically acceptable carrier" includes any and all solvents, dispersion media, coatings, antibacterial and antifungal agents, isotonic and absorption delaying agents and the like. The use of such media and agents for pharmaceutical active substances is well known in the art. Except insofar as any conventional media or agent is incompatible with the active ingredient, its use in the therapeutic compositions is contemplated. Supplementary active ingredients can also be incorporated into the compositions.

The phrase "pharmaceutically acceptable" refers to molecular entities and compositions that do not produce an allergic or similar untoward reaction when administered to a human. The preparation of an aqueous composition that contains a protein as an active ingredient is well understood in the art. Typically, such compositions are prepared as injectables, either as liquid solutions or suspensions; solid forms suitable for solution in, or suspension in, liquid prior to injection can also be prepared. The preparation can also be emulsified.

The composition can be formulated in a neutral or salt form. Pharmaceutically acceptable salts, include the acid addition salts (formed with the free amino groups of the protein) and which are formed with inorganic acids such as, for example, hydrochloric or phosphoric acids, or such organic acids as acetic, oxalic, tartaric, mandelic, and the like. Salts formed with the free carboxyl groups can also be derived from inorganic bases such as, for example, sodium, potassium, ammonium, calcium, or ferric hydroxides, and such organic bases as isopropylamine, trimethylamine, histidine, procaine and the like.

Upon formulation, solutions will be administered in a manner compatible with the dosage formulation and in such amount as is therapeutically effective. The formulations are easily administered in a variety of dosage forms such as injectable solutions, drug release capsules and the like.

For parenteral administration in an aqueous solution, for example, the solution should be suitably buffered if necessary and the liquid diluent first rendered isotonic with sufficient saline or glucose. These particular aqueous solutions are especially suitable for intravenous, intramuscular, subcutaneous and intraperitoneal administration. In this connection, sterile aqueous media which can be employed will be known to those of skill in the art in light of the present disclosure. For example, one dosage could be dissolved in 1 ml of isotonic NaCl solution and either added to 1000 ml of hypodermoclysis fluid or injected at the proposed site of infusion, (see for example, "Remington's Pharmaceutical Sciences" 15th Edition, pages 1035-1038 and 1570-1580). Some variation in dosage will necessarily occur depending on the condition of the subject being treated. The person responsible for administration will, in any event, determine the appropriate dose for the individual subject. Moreover, for human administration, preparations should meet sterility, pyrogenicity, general safety and purity standards as required by FDA Office of Biologics standards.
 

Claim 1 of 15 Claims

1. An isolated nucleic acid comprising a nucleotide sequence that encodes at least 16 contiguous amino acids of SEQ ID NO:97.
 

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