October 28, 2023

Threat Agnostic Virulence Assessment of Pathogens


Virulence assessment of new, emerging, and engineered pathogens is critical to mounting an appropriate response to a biothreat agent. The capacity of the pathogen to colonize human and harm tissues must be characterized to understand pathogenicity pathways and optimize diagnosis and treatment of resulting disease. Respiratory pathogens are of interest because they can have high transmissibility rates, as observed with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the causative agent of Covid-19. Current technologies are insufficient to assess threats due to their reliance on systems with only one cell type and on sequencing the pathogen. However, it is known that sequence is not an accurate predictor of function, and sequencing can be unreliable for newly emerged or engineered pathogens. An ideal system would consist of relevant epithelial cell types and an assay sensitive enough to detect changes in host responses that do not rely on DNA sequencing. We chose a system consisting of host lung epithelial cells that can be used to assess the virulence of unknown respiratory pathogens. We interrogated pathogens using this model and assess features of pathogenicity. Our objective is to leverage PNNLs strengths in tissue engineering and proteomics capabilities to build a multiple reaction monitoring (MRM) or parallel reaction monitoring (PRM) liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry assay for human host cell proteins whose abundance is influenced by infection. These responses can were then assessed for relative virulence using pathogen agnostic signatures. When confronted with a pathogen, cells activate dedicated signaling pathways, typically through phosphorylation of regulatory proteins and downstream activation of host cell networks.

Published: October 28, 2023


Hess B.M., L.M. Bramer, and T.D. Alfaro. 2023. Threat Agnostic Virulence Assessment of Pathogens Richland, WA: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.