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Science  20 Dec 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6165, pp. 1419
DOI: 10.1126/science.342.6165.1419-b

Some bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli, release toxins that punch holes into membranes to kill cells. Vaccines against such pore-forming proteins have generally used toxins that are inactivated by heat or chemicals to elicit a protective immune response. Although these treatments generate a safe vaccine, they can destroy key antigenic epitopes, thus weakening the immune response. Hu et al. have taken an alternative approach. The authors coated polymer nanoparticles with membranes from mouse red blood cells. The particles then absorbed undenatured staphylococcus alphahemolysin (Hla) toxin into the membrane coating. The nanotoxoids were stable and could be taken up by mouse dendritic cells, the immune cells that normally process antigen. Unlike Hla, the nanotoxoid particles did not kill cells when injected into the skin of mice. The particles also triggered the production of antibodies to Hla in mice, but avoided provoking an autoimmune response to other membrane constituents. The immune response also protected animals from a lethal dose of Hla. After a single vaccination and two booster shots, 100% of Hla-treated mice survived. A nanoparticle-based immunoengineering approach could be used to develop a broad range of anti-toxin vaccines.

Nat. Nanotechnol. 10.1038/NNANO.2013.254 (2013).

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