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Lead compound discovery from proprietary mycobacterial strains for treatment of PTSD

Award Information
Agency: Department of Health and Human Services
Branch: National Institutes of Health
Contract: 1R41AT011390-01A1
Agency Tracking Number: R41AT011390
Amount: $644,076.00
Phase: Phase I
Program: STTR
Solicitation Topic Code: NCCIH
Solicitation Number: PA18-579
Solicitation Year: 2018
Award Year: 2020
Award Start Date (Proposal Award Date): 2020-09-21
Award End Date (Contract End Date): 2022-11-30
Small Business Information
Boulder, CO 80301-2278
United States
DUNS: 111073195
HUBZone Owned: No
Woman Owned: No
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged: No
Principal Investigator
 (630) 768-4140
Business Contact
Phone: (720) 495-1217
Research Institution
BOULDER, CO 80303-1058
United States

 Nonprofit College or University

Project Summary
Immunoregulation, i.e., balanced expression of regulatory and effector T cells, is thought to be compromised in
modern high-income settings due in part to reduced contact with commensal and environmentally derived
bacteria, also known as “old friends”. Failed immunoregulation is thought to be one factor contributing to recent
increases in stress-related and chronic inflammatory disorders as well stress-related psychiatric disorders in
which inflammation is a risk factor, such as depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in
high-income countries. One of these “old friends” is Mycobacterium vaccae NCTC 11659, a nonpathogenic,
environmental saprophyte with anti-inflammatory and immunoregulatory properties. Immunization in the form of
a heat-killed preparation of M. vaccae has been shown to increase stress resilience in mice, as measured by
prevention of stress-induced increases in anxiety, prevention of stress-induced exaggeration of spontaneous
colitis, and prevention of stress-induced exaggeration of chemically induced colitis in a model of inflammatory
bowel disease. Immunization with M. vaccae, when conducted either before or after fear conditioning, has also
been shown to enhance fear extinction in a rat model of fear-potentiated startle. In other studies, immunization
with M. vaccae has been shown to prevent stress-induced exaggeration of anxiety-like defensive behavioral
responses in a rat model of learned helplessness in association with suppression of stress-induced microglial
priming and neuroinflammation. However, the extent to which these stress resilience and stress-protective
effects generalize to other strains of mycobacteria are not known. In this STTR proposal, we propose to
screen, using murine bone marrow-derived dendritic cells (BMDCs), human monocyte-derived macrophages
(THP-1 cells), and a microglial cell line (BV2 cells), twenty proprietary strains of environmental mycobacteria
for anti-inflammatory and immunoregulatory properties. For screening, we will target strains that meet the
following criteria: they can readily be cultivated in isolation; they are not closely related to known mycobacterial
pathogens; and they represent distinct lineages spanning the phylogenetic breadth of known mycobacterial
diversity (of which there are andgt;150 described mycobacterial strains). We will then screen two lead candidates,
using male and female rats, to identify novel strains of mycobacteria with stress-protective effects, as
measured by prevention of inescapable stress (IS)-induced increases in anxiety, conditioned fear, and escape
deficits, and prevention of stress-induced priming of hippocampal microglia and neuroinflammation. We will
also evaluate these strains in models of fear-potentiated startle and cued fear in male and female rats. At the
completion of these studies, it is our expectation that we will have identified a single lead strain of
mycobacteria that has the best properties for further preclinical testing and clinical development. These results
are expected to have an important positive impact for treatment of trauma- and stressor-related disorders
because current pharmacological treatments have significant limitations.PROJECT NARRATIVE
Evidence suggests that inappropriate inflammation due to lack of immunoregulation increases risk of
development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and contributes to persistence of PTSD symptoms. We
have shown that a heat-killed preparation of the environmental, saprophytic bacterium, Mycobacterium vaccae
NCTC 11659, has profound anti-inflammatory and immunoregulatory effects in the periphery and the central
nervous system (CNS) and prevents negative outcomes of trauma/stress exposure. We propose to screen 20
novel, proprietary strains of environmental mycobacteria with the intent of identifying a lead strain of
mycobacteria that has the best properties for preclinical testing.

* Information listed above is at the time of submission. *

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