Fimbriae-mediated initial adherence is the initial and critical step required for enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC) infection. Therefore, vaccine candidates have been developed that target these fimbriae and induce specific anti-fimbriae antibodies to block initial ETEC attachment. While this vaccine effectively protects against ETEC-associated post-weaning diarrhea (PWD), developing a broadly effective vaccine against initial ETEC attachment remains a challenging problem, owing to the immunological heterogeneity among these antigens. Here, we applied multi-epitope fusion antigen (MEFA) technology to construct a FaeG-FedF-FanC-FasA-Fim41a MEFA using the adhesive subunits of predominant fimbriae K88 and F18 as the backbone, which also integrated epitopes from adhesive subunits of the rare fimbriae K99, 987P, and F41; we then generated a MEFA computational model and tested the immunogenicity of this MEFA protein in immunized mice. We next evaluated the potential of the fimbriae-targeted MEFA as a vaccine candidate to effectively prevent PWD using in vitro assessment of its anti-fimbriae, antibody-directed inhibition of bacterial adherence. Computational modeling showed that all relevant epitopes were exposed on the MEFA surface and mice subcutaneously immunized with the MEFA protein developed IgG antibodies to all five fimbriae. Moreover, anti-fimbriae antibodies induced by the MEFA protein significantly inhibited the adhesion of K88+, F18+, K99+, 987P+, and F41+ ETEC strains to piglet small intestinal IPEC-1 and IPEC-J2 cell lines. Taken together, these results indicate that FaeG-FedF-FanC-FasA-Fim41a MEFA protein induced specific anti-fimbriae neutralizing antibodies against the five targeted fimbriae. Critically, these results show the potential of fimbriae-targeted MEFA and indicate their promise as a broad, effective vaccine against PWD.
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