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A fundamental question in human susceptibility to bacterial infections is to what extent variability is a function of differences in the pathogen species or in individual humans. To focus on the pathogen species, we compared in the same individual the human adaptive T and B cell immune response to multiple strains of two major human pathogens, Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes. We found wide variability in the acute adaptive immune response induced by various strains of a species, with a unique combination of activation within the two arms of the adaptive response. Further, this was also accompanied by a dramatic difference in the intensity of the specific protective T helper (Th) response. Importantly, the same immune response differences induced by the individual strains were maintained across multiple healthy human donors. A comparison of isogenic phage KO strains, demonstrated that of the pangenome, prophages were the major contributor to inter-strain immune heterogeneity, as the T cell response to the remaining ªcore genomeº was noticeably blunted. Therefore, these findings extend and modify the notion of an adaptive response to a pathogenic bacterium, by implying that the adaptive immune response signature of a bacterial species should be defined either per strain or alternatively to the species' `core genome', common to all of its strains. Further, our results demonstrate that the acquired immune response variation is as wide among different strains within a single pathogenic species as it is among different humans, and therefore may explain in part the clinical heterogeneity observed in patients infected with the same species.


This article was originally published in PLOS Pathogens, available at https://

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.



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