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mBio . Genetically Engineered Live-Attenuated Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Viruses Confer Full Protection against Lethal Infection

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  • mBio . Genetically Engineered Live-Attenuated Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Viruses Confer Full Protection against Lethal Infection


    mBio


    . 2021 Mar 2;12(2):e00103-21.
    doi: 10.1128/mBio.00103-21.
    Genetically Engineered Live-Attenuated Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Viruses Confer Full Protection against Lethal Infection


    Javier Gutiérrez-Álvarez 1 , José M Honrubia 1 , Raúl Fernández-Delgado 1 , Li Wang 1 , Carlos Castaño-Rodríguez 1 , Sonia Zúñiga 1 , Isabel Sola 1 , Luis Enjuanes 2



    Affiliations

    Abstract

    There are no approved vaccines against the life-threatening Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Attenuated vaccines have proven their potential to induce strong and long-lasting immune responses. We have previously described that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) envelope (E) protein is a virulence factor. Based on this knowledge, a collection of mutants carrying partial deletions spanning the C-terminal domain of the E protein (rMERS-CoV-E*) has been generated using a reverse genetics system. One of these mutants, MERS-CoV-E*Δ2in, was attenuated and provided full protection in a challenge with virulent MERS-CoV after a single immunization dose. The MERS-CoV-E*Δ2in mutant was stable as it maintained its attenuation after 16 passages in cell cultures and has been selected as a promising vaccine candidate.IMPORTANCE The emergence of the new highly pathogenic human coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that has already infected more than 80 million persons, killing nearly two million of them, clearly indicates the need to design efficient and safe vaccines protecting from these coronaviruses. Modern vaccines can be derived from virus-host interaction research directed to the identification of signaling pathways essential for virus replication and for virus-induced pathogenesis, in order to learn how to attenuate these viruses and design vaccines. Using a reverse genetics system developed in our laboratory, an infectious cDNA clone of MERS-CoV was engineered. Using this cDNA, we sequentially deleted several predicted and conserved motifs within the envelope (E) protein of MERS-CoV, previously associated with the presence of virulence factors. The in vitro and in vivo evaluation of these deletion mutants highlighted the relevance of predicted linear motifs in viral pathogenesis. Two of them, an Atg8 protein binding motif (Atg8-BM), and a forkhead-associated binding motif (FHA-BM), when deleted, rendered an attenuated virus that was evaluated as a vaccine candidate, leading to full protection against challenge with a lethal dose of MERS-CoV. This approach can be extended to the engineering of vaccines protecting against the new pandemic SARS-CoV-2.

    Keywords: MERS-CoV; coronavirus; genome engineering; vaccines.

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