The efficacy of DNA vaccine is associated closely with the expression of the antigen and the intensity of local immune responses. In our previous study, a recombinant DNA plasmid expressing the VAA protein (pVAA) of Listonella anguillarum has been proved to have a good protection against the infection of L. anguillarum. In the present study, the local immune responses eliciting by immunizing flounder with intramuscular (I.M.) injection of pVAA was investigated at the cellular and genetic level, the muscle at the injection site at 7th post vaccination day was sampled and analyzed by hematoxylin-eosin (H&E) staining, immunohistochemistry (IHC), flow cytometry (FCM), RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq)-based transcriptomics and RT-qPCR. Then variations on the specific antibodies in serum at 1st-6th post vaccination week and the relative percent survival rate (RPS) at following 14 days after challenge were measured. The H&E results showed that inflammatory cells and immune cells significantly increased at the injection site. The IHC using monoclonal antibody against T cell markers revealed that both CD4-1 and CD4-2 T lymphocytes were recruited to the injection site and FCM results showed that the proportion of CD4-1 cells in pVAA immunized group was 28.6 %, in the control group was 8.7 %, and that of CD4-2 cells in two groups was 21.2 % and 8.5 %, respectively. These results indicating that the proportion of CD4 cells in the immune group was significantly increased compared with the control group. Moreover, there were 2551 genes differently expressed in pVAA immunized group, KEGG analysis showed the genes involved in the signal transduction and immune system, and surface markers for B-cells genes, T-cells and antigen presenting cells (APCs) genes were highly upregulated, suggesting the activation of the systemic immune responses. Antibody specific anti-L. anguillarum or anti-rVAA antibodies were significantly induced at 2nd post-immunization week, that reached a peak at 4-5th week. RPS in pVAA group was 53.85±3.64 %. In conclusion, pVAA induced effective local immune responses and then the systematic response. This probably is the main contribution of pVAA to effective protection against L. anguillarum.
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