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A Self-Adjuvanted, Modular, Antigenic VLP for Rapid Response to Influenza Virus Variability

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posted on 13.04.2020, 15:48 by Jhanvi Sharma, Kelly Shepardson, Laura L. Johns, Julia Wellham, John Avera, Benjamin Schwarz, Agnieszka Rynda-Apple, Trevor Douglas
The continuous evolution of influenza A virus (IAV) requires the influenza vaccine formulations to be updated annually to provide adequate protection. Recombinant protein-based vaccines provide safer, faster, and a more scalable alternative to the conventional embryonated egg approach for developing vaccines. However, these vaccines are typically poorer in immunogenicity than the vaccines containing inactivated or attenuated influenza viruses and require administration of a large antigen dosage together with potent adjuvants. The presentation of protein antigens on the surface of virus-like particles (VLP) provides an attractive strategy to rapidly induce stronger antigen-specific immune responses. Here we have examined the immunogenic potential and protective efficacy of P22 VLPs conjugated with multiple copies of the globular head domain of the hemagglutinin (HA) protein from the PR8 strain of IAV in a murine model of influenza pathogenesis. Using a covalent attachment strategy (SpyTag/SpyCatcher), we conjugated the HA globular head, which was recombinantly expressed in a genetically modified E. coli strain and found to refold as a monomer, to preassembled P22 VLPs. Immunization of mice with this P22-HAhead conjugate provided full protection from morbidity and mortality following infection with a homologous IAV strain. Moreover, the P22-HAhead conjugate also elicited an accelerated and enhanced HA head specific IgG response, which was significantly higher than the soluble HA head, or the admixture of P22 and HA head without the need for adjuvants. Thus, our results show that the HA head can be easily prepared by in vitro refolding in a modified E. coli strain, maintaining its intact structure and enabling the induction of a strong immune response when conjugated to P22 VLPs, even when presented as a monomer. These results also demonstrate that the P22 VLPs can be rapidly modified in a modular fashion, resulting in an effective vaccine construct that can generate protective immunity without the need for additional adjuvants.

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