Developing a Novel, Safe, and Effective Platform for Generating Flavivirus Vaccines

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Virginia Tech


Viruses in the Flavivirus genus (e.g., Zika, yellow fever, dengue, West Nile, and Japanese encephalitis viruses) are arthropod-borne, globally distributed, and can cause a range of neurological or hemorrhagic diseases. The ongoing epidemics of flaviviral disease consistently demonstrate the need for new vaccines capable of outbreak control. However, safe, effective, and easy-to-produce vaccines remain relatively elusive due to limitations of conventional vaccine development that make it difficult to balance safety and efficacy. Insect-specific flaviviruses (ISFVs) are emerging as a novel method to overcome this challenge. Herein, we develop a new flavivirus vaccine platform based on the novel insect-specific flavivirus called Aripo virus, which we used to create a preclinical Zika virus (ZIKV) vaccine named Aripo/Zika virus (ARPV/ZIKV). ARPV/ZIKV is a live recombinant virus consisting of the ZIKV pre-membrane and envelope protein genes expressed on an Aripo virus backbone. In this work, we quantify the safety and efficacy of ARPV/ZIKV in multiple murine models, and begin to elucidate the mechanisms of humoral and cell-mediated immune induction for this new platform. Overall, the vaccine showed no evidence of pathogenicity in immunocompromised or suckling mice, and demonstrated a complete inability to replicate in various vertebrate cell lines. Despite this lack of replication, a single dose of live, unadjuvanted ARPV/ZIKV completely prevented ZIKV disease in mice and prevented in utero ZIKV transmission in gravid mice. Direct protection post-ZIKV challenge appears to be primarily mediated by neutralizing antibodies based on passive transfer, adoptive transfer, and T-cell depletion studies. However, vaccination studies in Rag1 KO, Tcra KO, and muMt- mice demonstrate the critical role of T-cell responses in developing immunity post-vaccination. In summary, ARPV/ZIKV is a promising vaccine candidate that induces robust adaptive immune responses, and this success is a positive indication of ARPV's potential as a new resource for flavivirus vaccine development. This body of work contributes to the rapidly expanding field of insect-specific virus-based vaccines and generates new insights into their optimization. Ultimately, this work may help protect the health of millions of people worldwide that are currently at risk of flavivirus infection.



insect-specific virus, flavivirus, vaccine development, arthropod-borne virus, emerging infectious disease