Under conditions of iron starvation, Bacteroides fragilis expresses various iron-repressible outer membrane proteins (IROMPs). A 44-kDa protein appears to be one of the major outer membrane proteins (OMPs) in B. fragilis under iron stress and plays a role in heme uptake by this bacterium. To determine whether the 44-kDa IROMP of B. fragilis is expressed in vivo and whether this protein is immunogenic, we used Western immunoblotting to examine serum samples from patients with an infection caused by Bacteroides species. All the serum samples from patients and from normal controls showed reactivity with several proteins of B. fragilis. Only serum samples from patients infected with B. fragilis showed immunoreactivity with the 44-kDa protein. We also used a rat infection model to study the immune response against this protein during the process of an intra-abdominal infection in these animals. During the first 8 days of infection a gradual increase of antibodies to the 44-kDa protein in the rat was detected. These results suggest that the 44-kDa IROMP is expressed in vivo, since it induces an antibody response in patients and animals. We also analyzed 85 strains of the B. fragilis group for the presence of proteins antigenically related to the B. fragilis 44-kDa protein. The data indicate that this protein was conserved in B. fragilis strains and was absent in the other bacterial strains tested.
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