It alerts the immune system to iron receptors on the surface of Escherichia coli bacteria that perform a critical function allowing infection to spread.
Administered in the nose, it induces an immune response in the body's mucosa, a first line of defense against invading pathogens. The response, also produced in mucosal tissue in the urinary tract, should help the body fight infection where it starts.
The researchers used novel systematic approach, combining bioinformatics, genomics and proteomics, to look for key parts of the bacterium that could be used in a vaccine to elicit an effective immune response.
The team, led by Dr. Harry L.T. Mobley, screened 5,379 possible bacterial proteins and identified three strong candidates to use in a vaccine to prime the body to fight E. coli.
Mobley's team is currently testing more strains of E. coli obtained from women treated at U-M.
If the robust immunity achieved in mice can be reproduced in humans, it could be the first ever vaccine for urinary tract infections.
Most of the strains produce the same iron-related proteins that can be vaccine targets, an encouraging sign that the vaccine could work against many urinary tract infections.
The findings are published in the open-access journal PLoS Pathogens.