by Samantha J. Dando, Ilias Nitsos, Suhas G. Kallapur, John P. Newnham, Graeme R. Polglase, J. Jane Pillow, Alan H. Jobe, Peter Timms, Christine L. Knox
The multiple banded antigen (MBA) is a predicted virulence factor of Ureaplasma species. Antigenic variation of the MBA is a potential mechanism by which ureaplasmas avoid immune recognition and cause chronic infections of the upper genital tract of pregnant women. We tested whether the MBA is involved in the pathogenesis of intra-amniotic infection and chorioamnionitis by injecting virulent or avirulent-derived ureaplasma clones (expressing single MBA variants) into the amniotic fluid of pregnant sheep. At 55 days of gestation pregnant ewes (n?=?20) received intra-amniotic injections of virulent-derived or avirulent-derived U. parvum serovar 6 strains (2×104 CFU), or 10B medium (n?=?5). Amniotic fluid was collected every two weeks post-infection and fetal tissues were collected at the time of surgical delivery of the fetus (140 days of gestation). Whilst chronic colonisation was established in the amniotic fluid of animals infected with avirulent-derived and virulent-derived ureaplasmas, the severity of chorioamnionitis and fetal inflammation was not different between these groups (p>0.05). MBA size variants (32–170 kDa) were generated in vivo in amniotic fluid samples from both the avirulent and virulent groups, whereas in vitro antibody selection experiments led to the emergence of MBA-negative escape variants in both strains. Anti-ureaplasma IgG antibodies were detected in the maternal serum of animals from the avirulent (40%) and virulent (55%) groups, and these antibodies correlated with increased IL-1ß, IL-6 and IL-8 expression in chorioamnion tissue (p<0.05). We demonstrate that ureaplasmas are capable of MBA phase variation in vitro; however, ureaplasmas undergo MBA size variation in vivo, to potentially prevent eradication by the immune response. Size variation of the MBA did not correlate with the severity of chorioamnionitis. Nonetheless, the correlation between a maternal humoral response and the expression of chorioamnion cytokines is a novel finding. This host response may be important in the pathogenesis of inflammation-mediated adverse pregnancy outcomes.