West Nile Virus Vaccination Protects against Usutu Virus Disease in Mice
Hawks, Seth A.
Huang, Claire Y.-H.
Duggal, Nisha K.
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West Nile virus (WNV) and Usutu virus (USUV) are mosquito-borne flaviviruses that can cause neuroinvasive disease in humans. WNV and USUV circulate in both Africa and Europe and are closely related. Due to antigenic similarity, WNV-specific antibodies and USUV-specific antibodies have the potential to bind heterologous viruses; however, it is unclear whether this interaction may offer protection against infection. To investigate how prior WNV exposure would influence USUV infection, we used an attenuated WNV vaccine that contains the surface proteins of WNV in the backbone of a dengue virus 2 vaccine strain and protects against WNV disease. We hypothesized that vaccination with this attenuated WNV vaccine would protect against USUV infection. Neutralizing responses against WNV and USUV were measured in vitro using sera following vaccination. Sera from vaccinated CD-1 and Ifnar1−/− mice cross-neutralized with WNV and USUV. All mice were then subsequently challenged with an African or European USUV strain. In CD-1 mice, there was no difference in USUV titers between vaccinated and mock-vaccinated mice. However, in the Ifnar1−/− model, vaccinated mice had significantly higher survival rates and significantly lower USUV viremia compared to mock-vaccinated mice. Our results indicate that exposure to an attenuated form of WNV protects against severe USUV disease in mice and elicits a neutralizing response to both WNV and USUV. Future studies will investigate the immune mechanisms responsible for the protection against USUV infection induced by WNV vaccination, providing critical insight that will be essential for USUV and WNV vaccine development.