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Vaccination of healthy and diseased koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) with a Chlamydia pecorum multi-subunit vaccine: Evaluation of immunity and pathology


Avinash Kollipara a, Carmel George a, Jon Hanger b, Jo Loader b, Adam Polkinghorne a, Kenneth Beagley a, Peter Timms a,∗

a Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, Queensland University of Technology, 60 Musk Ave, Kelvin Grove, QLD 4059, Australia
b Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital, 1638 Steve Irwin Way, Beerwah, QLD 4519, Australia

Chlamydial infections represent a major threat to the long-term survival of the koala and a successful vaccine would provide a valuable management tool. Vaccination however has the potential to enhance inflammatory disease in animals exposed to a natural infection prior to vaccination, a finding in early human and primate trials of whole cell vaccines to prevent trachoma. In the present study, we vaccinated both healthy koalas as well as clinically diseased koalas with a multi-subunit vaccine consisting of Chlamydia pecorum MOMP and NrdB mixed with immune stimulating complex as adjuvant. Following vaccination, there was no increase in inflammatory pathological changes in animals previously infected with Chlamydia. Strong antibody (including neutralizing antibodies) and lymphocyte proliferation responses were recorded in all vaccinated koalas, both healthy and clinically diseased. Vaccine induced antibodies specific for both vaccine antigens were observed not only in plasma but also in ocular secretions. Our data shows that an experimental chlamydial vaccine is safe to use in previously infected koalas, in that it does not worsen infection-associated lesions. Furthermore, the prototype vaccine is effective, as demonstrated by strong levels of neutralizing antibody and lymphocyte proliferation responses in both healthy and clinically diseased koalas. Collectively, this work illustrates the feasibility of developing a safe and effective Chlamydia vaccine as a tool for management of disease in wild koalas.