Oligomeric state of the ZIKV E protein defines protective immune responses

Stefan W. Metz, Ashlie Thomas, Alex Brackbill, John Forsberg, Michael J. Miley, Cesar A. Lopez, Helen M. Lazear, Shaomin Tian, Aravinda M. de Silva

Jun 25, 2019
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Received Date: 10th June 19

The current leading Zika vaccine candidates in clinical testing are based on live or killed virus platforms, which have safety issues, especially in pregnant women.  Zika subunit vaccines, however, have shown poor performance in preclinical studies. We hypothesized that Zika Envelope (E) protein subunit vaccines have performed poorly because the antigens tested have been recombinant E monomers that do not display critical quaternary structure epitopes present on Zika E protein homodimers that cover the surface of the virus.  To test this hypothesis, we engineered and produced stable recombinant E protein homodimers.  Unlike the E monomer, the dimer was recognized by strongly neutralizing monoclonal antibodies isolated from Zika-immune individuals.  In a mouse model of vaccination, the dimeric antigen stimulated strongly neutralizing antibodies that targeted epitopes that were similar to epitopes recognized by human antibodies following natural Zika virus infection.  In contrast, the monomer antigen stimulated lower levels of neutralizing antibodies directed to simple epitopes on domain III of E protein.  In a mouse model of ZIKV challenge, only E dimer antigen stimulated protective antibodies, not the monomer.  These results highlight the importance of mimicking the highly structured flavivirus surface when designing subunit vaccines.  The flavivirus field has a long history of using E monomers as vaccine antigens with limited success.  These results are applicable to developing second generation subunit vaccines against Zika as well as other medically important flaviviruses such as dengue and yellow fever viruses.

Read in full at bioRxiv.

This is an abstract of a preprint hosted on an independent third party site. It has not been peer reviewed but is currently under consideration at Nature Communications.

Nature Communications

Nature Research, Springer Nature