Group B streptococci (GBS) are a major cause of sepsis and meningitis in infants. While antibodies directed to the type-specific GBS capsule have been shown to be protective, it is less clear whether antibodies to the group B polysaccharide, a noncapsular, cell wall-associated antigen, may play a role in immunity. To investigate the functional activity of group B polysaccharide-specific antibodies, we tested sera from rabbits vaccinated with group B polysaccharide coupled to tetanus toxoid (B-TT). Anti-B-TT was weakly opsonic in vitro for a highly encapsulated type III strain, while antiserum elicited by vaccination with type III capsular polysaccharide linked to tetanus toxoid (III-TT) was a very effective opsonin. In contrast to anti-III-TT, anti-B-TT given before or after bacterial challenge was only marginally effective in protecting newborn mice against lethal infection with type III GBS. The number of C3 molecules bound to type III GBS was augmented by anti-III-TT but not by high antibody concentrations of anti-B-TT. These results suggest that the difference in opsonic activity between anti-B-TT and anti-III-TT may be due to a difference in their ability to deposit C3. In addition, the maximum number of antibody molecules bound to the bacterial surface was greater for anti-III-TT than for anti-B-TT. That anti-B-TT binds to fewer sites than anti-III-TT may explain the differences in complement activation and in opsonic and protective efficacy of antibodies to group B polysaccharide compared with antibodies to the type-specific capsular polysaccharide
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