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Vaccine research for gonococcal infections: where are we?


Gonorrhoea continues to seriously impact human society with an estimated 106 million new infections occurring annually. The consequence of gonorrhoea on reproductive and neonatal health is especially concerning as is its role in the spread of HIV. Current control measures rely on the identification and treatment of infected individuals and their sexual contacts. The success of this strategy, which is already inadequate, is lessened by poor diagnostic capabilities in many parts of the world and challenged by the rapid emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains. The potential of untreatable gonorrhoea is now real, and a gonorrhoea vaccine is seriously needed. Historically, gonorrhoea vaccine research has been hampered by the antigenic variability of the gonococcal surface, a lack of known protective mechanisms, and the absence of a small laboratory animal model for testing candidate vaccines and manipulating host responses. Here we discuss recent advances that have rekindled research efforts towards a gonorrhoea vaccine. Several conserved and semiconserved vaccine antigens have been identified that elicit bactericidal antibodies or inhibit target function. A mouse genital tract infection model is available for systematic testing of vaccines, and transgenic mice have been developed to relieve host restrictions. Additionally, several immunological advances have been made including the identification of mechanisms by which Neisseria gonorrhoeae suppresses the adaptive response and the demonstration that Th1 responses clear experimental infection in mice and induce a protective memory response. We also discuss important issues with respect to product development that must be considered when entering the vaccine pipeline.


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