Human monoclonal antibodies were used here to study the mechanism of neuron intoxication by tetanus neurotoxin and to evaluate them as a safe preventive and therapeutic substitute of hyperimmune sera for tetanus in mice. By screening memory B cells of immune donors, we selected two monoclonal antibodies specific for tetanus neurotoxin with exceptionally high neutralizing activities, which were extensively characterized both structurally and functionally. We found that these antibodies interfere with the binding and translocation of the neurotoxin into neurons by interacting with two epitopes, whose definition pinpoints crucial events in the cellular pathogenesis of tetanus. This information explains the unprecedented neutralization ability of these antibodies, which were found to be exceptionally potent in preventing experimental tetanus when injected in mice long before the neurotoxin. Moreover, their Fab derivatives neutralized tetanus neurotoxin in post-exposure experiments, suggesting their potential therapeutic use via intrathecal injection. As such, these human monoclonal antibodies, as well as their Fab derivatives, meet all requirements for being considered for prophylaxis and therapy of human tetanus and are ready for clinical trials.
Marco Pirazzini, Alessandro Grinzato, Davide Corti, Sonia Barbieri, Oneda Leka, Francesca Vallese, Marika Tonellato, Chiara Silacci-Fregni, Luca Piccoli, Eaazhisai Kandiah, Giampietro Schiavo, Giuseppe Zanotti, Antonio Lanzavecchia, Cesare Montecucco