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Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus vaccine based on a propagation-defective RNA replicon elicited sterilizing immunity in mice [Microbiology]
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America  (IF11.205),  Pub Date : 2021-10-26, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2111075118
J. Gutiérrez-Álvarez, J. M. Honrubia, A. Sanz-Bravo, E. González-Miranda, R. Fernández-Delgado, M. T. Rejas, S. Zúñiga, I. Sola, L. Enjuanes

Self-amplifying RNA replicons are promising platforms for vaccine generation. Their defects in one or more essential functions for viral replication, particle assembly, or dissemination make them highly safe as vaccines. We previously showed that the deletion of the envelope (E) gene from the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) produces a replication-competent propagation-defective RNA replicon (MERS-CoV-ΔE). Evaluation of this replicon in mice expressing human dipeptidyl peptidase 4, the virus receptor, showed that the single deletion of the E gene generated an attenuated mutant. The combined deletion of the E gene with accessory open reading frames (ORFs) 3, 4a, 4b, and 5 resulted in a highly attenuated propagation-defective RNA replicon (MERS-CoV-Δ[3,4a,4b,5,E]). This RNA replicon induced sterilizing immunity in mice after challenge with a lethal dose of a virulent MERS-CoV, as no histopathological damage or infectious virus was detected in the lungs of challenged mice. The four mutants lacking the E gene were genetically stable, did not recombine with the E gene provided in trans during their passage in cell culture, and showed a propagation-defective phenotype in vivo. In addition, immunization with MERS-CoV-Δ[3,4a,4b,5,E] induced significant levels of neutralizing antibodies, indicating that MERS-CoV RNA replicons are highly safe and promising vaccine candidates.