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1.  A Multisystem Approach for Development and Evaluation of Inactivated Vaccines for Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Virus (VEEV) 
A multisystem approach was used to assess the efficiency of several methods for inactivation of Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) vaccine candidates. A combination of diverse assays (plaque, in vitro cytopathology and mouse neurovirulence) was used to verify virus inactivation, along with the use of a specific ELISA to measure retention of VEEV envelope glycoprotein epitopes in the development of several inactivated VEEV candidate vaccines derived from an attenuated strain of VEEV (V3526). Incubation of V3526 aliquots at temperatures in excess of 64°C for periods >30 minutes inactivated the virus, but substantially reduced VEEV specific monoclonal antibody binding of the inactivated material. In contrast, V3526 treated either with formalin at concentrations of 0.1% or 0.5% v/v for 4 or 24 hours, or irradiated with 50 kilogray gamma radiation rendered the virus non-infectious while retaining significant levels of monoclonal antibody binding. Loss of infectivity of both the formalin inactivated (fV3526) and gamma irradiated (gV3526) preparations was confirmed via five successive blind passages on BHK-21 cells. Similarly, loss of neurovirulence for fV3526 and gV3526 was demonstrated via intracerebral inoculation of suckling BALB/c mice. Excellent protection against subcutaneous challenge with VEEV IA/B Trinidad donkey strain was demonstrated using a two dose immunization regimen with either fV3526 or gV3526. The combination of in vitro and in vivo assays provides a practical approach to optimize manufacturing process parameters for development of other inactivated viral vaccines.
PMCID: PMC2815040  PMID: 19903494
Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV); Formalin inactivated vaccines; Gamma irradiated vaccines; Neurovirulence; Alphavirus
2.  IRES-Containing VEEV Vaccine Protects Cynomolgus Macaques from IE Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Virus Aerosol Challenge 
PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases  2015;9(5):e0003797.
Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) is an arbovirus endemic to the Americas that is responsible for severe, sometimes fatal, disease in humans and horses. We previously described an IRES-based VEE vaccine candidate based up the IE serotype that offers complete protection against a lethal subtype IE VEEV challenge in mice. Here we demonstrate the IRES-based vaccine’s ability to protect against febrile disease in cynomolgus macaques. Vaccination was well tolerated and elicited robust neutralizing antibody titers noticed as early as day 14. Moreover, complete protection from disease characterized by absence of viremia and characteristic fever following aerosolized IE VEEV challenge was observed in all vaccinees compared to control animals, which developed clinical disease. Together, these results highlight the safety and efficacy of IRES-based VEEV vaccine to protect against an endemic, pathogenic VEEV IE serotype.
Author Summary
Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) is a mosquito-borne arbovirus endemic to the Americas that affects a wide range of equids and humans. Vaccination has been one of the strategies to combat spread of disease in areas with high rates incidence of VEEV, although existing vaccines have proven less than effective against genetically diverse serotypes. In addition to being a natural vectorborne threat, VEEV is considered a biological threat agent that could be used as a weapon. We evaluated a new Internal Ribosome Entry Site (IRES)-containing chimeric viral vaccine using an advanced nonhuman primate model of VEEV infection. Vaccinated animals showed robust humoral immune responses to a single prime immunization with IE VEEV/IRES vaccine. The vaccine protected against an aerosolized IE (68U201) challenge, with vaccinees showing no blood viremia or development of febrile disease, including no pyrexia associated with VEEV infection. This vaccine product has shown efficacy against serotype-specific challenge model and provides enabling data as the basis for future clinical development.
PMCID: PMC4447396  PMID: 26020513
3.  IRES-driven Expression of the Capsid Protein of the Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Virus TC-83 Vaccine Strain Increases Its Attenuation and Safety 
The live-attenuated TC-83 strain is the only licensed veterinary vaccine available to protect equids against Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) and to protect humans indirectly by preventing equine amplification. However, TC-83 is reactogenic due to its reliance on only two attenuating point mutations and has infected mosquitoes following equine vaccination. To increase its stability and safety, a recombinant TC-83 was previously engineered by placing the expression of the viral structural proteins under the control of the Internal Ribosome Entry Site (IRES) of encephalomyocarditis virus (EMCV), which drives translation inefficiently in insect cells. However, this vaccine candidate was poorly immunogenic. Here we describe a second generation of the recombinant TC-83 in which the subgenomic promoter is maintained and only the capsid protein gene is translated from the IRES. This VEEV/IRES/C vaccine candidate did not infect mosquitoes, was stable in its attenuation phenotype after serial murine passages, and was more attenuated in newborn mice but still as protective as TC-83 against VEEV challenge. Thus, by using the IRES to modulate TC-83 capsid protein expression, we generated a vaccine candidate that combines efficient immunogenicity and efficacy with lower virulence and a reduced potential for spread in nature.
Author Summary
Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) is transmitted by mosquitoes and widely distributed in Central and South America, causing regular outbreaks in horses and humans. Often misdiagnosed as dengue, VEEV infection in humans can lead to lifelong neurological sequelae and is fatal in up to >80% of equine cases, representing a significant socio-economic burden and constant public health threats for developing countries of Latin America. The only available vaccine, the live-attenuated TC-83 strain, is restricted to veterinary use due to its high reactogenicity in humans and risk for reversion to virulence, which could initiate an epidemic. By using an attenuation approach that allows the modulation of the virus capsid protein expression, we generated a new version of TC-83 that is more attenuated but still induces a protective immune response in mice. Additionally, this new vaccine cannot infect mosquitoes, which prevents the risk of spreading in nature. The attenuation approach we describe can be applied to a lot of other alphaviruses to develop vaccines against diseases regularly emerging and threatening developing countries.
PMCID: PMC3649961  PMID: 23675542
4.  Replication and Clearance of Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Virus from the Brains of Animals Vaccinated with Chimeric SIN/VEE Viruses 
Journal of Virology  2006;80(6):2784-2796.
Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) is an important, naturally emerging zoonotic pathogen. Recent outbreaks in Venezuela and Colombia in 1995, involving an estimated 100,000 human cases, indicate that VEEV still poses a serious public health threat. To develop a safe, efficient vaccine that protects against disease resulting from VEEV infection, we generated chimeric Sindbis (SIN) viruses expressing structural proteins of different strains of VEEV and analyzed their replication in vitro and in vivo, as well as the characteristics of the induced immune responses. None of the chimeric SIN/VEE viruses caused any detectable disease in adult mice after either intracerebral (i.c.) or subcutaneous (s.c.) inoculation, and all chimeras were more attenuated than the vaccine strain, VEEV TC83, in 6-day-old mice after i.c. infection. All vaccinated mice were protected against lethal encephalitis following i.c., s.c., or intranasal (i.n.) challenge with the virulent VEEV ZPC738 strain (ZPC738). In spite of the absence of clinical encephalitis in vaccinated mice challenged with ZPC738 via i.n. or i.c. route, we regularly detected high levels of infectious challenge virus in the central nervous system (CNS). However, infectious virus was undetectable in the brains of all immunized animals at 28 days after challenge. Hamsters vaccinated with chimeric SIN/VEE viruses were also protected against s.c. challenge with ZPC738. Taken together, our findings suggest that these chimeric SIN/VEE viruses are safe and efficacious in adult mice and hamsters and are potentially useful as VEEV vaccines. In addition, immunized animals provide a useful model for studying the mechanisms of the anti-VEEV neuroinflammatory response, leading to the reduction of viral titers in the CNS and survival of animals.
PMCID: PMC1395430  PMID: 16501087
5.  Entry Sites of Venezuelan and Western Equine Encephalitis Viruses in the Mouse Central Nervous System following Peripheral Infection 
Journal of Virology  2016;90(12):5785-5796.
Venezuelan and western equine encephalitis viruses (VEEV and WEEV; Alphavirus; Togaviridae) are mosquito-borne pathogens causing central nervous system (CNS) disease in humans and equids. Adult CD-1 mice also develop CNS disease after infection with VEEV and WEEV. Adult CD-1 mice infected by the intranasal (i.n.) route, showed that VEEV and WEEV enter the brain through olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs). In this study, we injected the mouse footpad with recombinant WEEV (McMillan) or VEEV (subtype IC strain 3908) expressing firefly luciferase (fLUC) to simulate mosquito infection and examined alphavirus entry in the CNS. Luciferase expression served as a marker of infection detected as bioluminescence (BLM) by in vivo and ex vivo imaging. BLM imaging detected WEEV and VEEV at 12 h postinoculation (hpi) at the injection site (footpad) and as early as 72 hpi in the brain. BLM from WEEV.McM-fLUC and VEEV.3908-fLUC injections was initially detected in the brain's circumventricular organs (CVOs). No BLM activity was detected in the olfactory neuroepithelium or OSNs. Mice were also injected in the footpad with WEEV.McM expressing DsRed (Discosoma sp.) and imaged by confocal fluorescence microscopy. DsRed imaging supported our BLM findings by detecting WEEV in the CVOs prior to spreading along the neuronal axis to other brain regions. Taken together, these findings support our hypothesis that peripherally injected alphaviruses enter the CNS by hematogenous seeding of the CVOs followed by centripetal spread along the neuronal axis.
IMPORTANCE VEEV and WEEV are mosquito-borne viruses causing sporadic epidemics in the Americas. Both viruses are associated with CNS disease in horses, humans, and mouse infection models. In this study, we injected VEEV or WEEV, engineered to express bioluminescent or fluorescent reporters (fLUC and DsRed, respectively), into the footpads of outbred CD-1 mice to simulate transmission by a mosquito. Reporter expression serves as detectable bioluminescent and fluorescent markers of VEEV and WEEV replication and infection. Bioluminescence imaging, histological examination, and confocal fluorescence microscopy were used to identify early entry sites of these alphaviruses in the CNS. We observed that specific areas of the brain (circumventricular organs [CVOs]) consistently showed the earliest signs of infection with VEEV and WEEV. Histological examination supported VEEV and WEEV entering the brain of mice at specific sites where the blood-brain barrier is naturally absent.
PMCID: PMC4886771  PMID: 27053560
6.  Epidemiology of Emergent Madariaga Encephalitis in a Region with Endemic Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis: Initial Host Studies and Human Cross-Sectional Study in Darien, Panama 
PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases  2016;10(4):e0004554.
Neurotropic arboviral infections are an important cause of encephalitis. A zoonotic, vector-borne alphavirus, Madariaga virus (MADV; formerly known as South American eastern equine encephalitis virus), caused its first documented human outbreak in 2010 in Darien, Panama, where the genetically similar Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) is endemic. We report the results of a seroprevalence survey of animals and humans, illustrating contrasting features of MADV and VEEV ecology and epidemiology.
Small mammals were trapped in 42 sites in Darien, Panama, using Sherman traps, Tomahawk traps, and mist nets for bats. Blood was tested for the presence of neutralizing antibodies to MADV and VEEV. In addition, bird sera collected in 2007 in Chagres, Panama, were tested for MADV and VEEV neutralizing antibodies. Viremia was ascertained by RT-PCR. Human exposure to these two viruses was determined by IgG ELISA, followed by plaque reduction neutralization tests. To identify relevant risk factors for MADV or VEEV exposure, logistic regression analysis was performed, and the most parsimonious model was selected based on the Akaike information criterion.
The animal survey yielded 32 bats (16 species), 556 rodents (12 species), and 20 opossums (4 species). The short-tailed cane mouse (Zygodontomys brevicauda) found abundantly in pasture and farms, had the highest MADV seroprevalence (8.3%). For VEEV, the shrub and forest-dwelling long-whiskered rice rat (Transandinomys bolivaris) had the highest seroprevalence (19.0%). Viremia was detected in one animal (Z. brevicauda). Of the 159 bird sera (50 species) tested, none were positive for either virus. In humans (n = 770), neutralizing antibodies to MADV and VEEV were present in 4.8% and 31.5%, respectively. MADV seropositivity was positively associated with cattle ranching, farming, and fishing. Having VEEV antibodies and shrubs near the house diminished risk. Age, forest work, farming and fishing were risk factors for VEEV, while having MADV antibodies, glazed windows, waste pick-up and piped water were protective.
Our findings suggest that the short-tailed cane mouse and the long-whiskered rice rat serve as hosts for MADV and VEEV, respectively. The preferred habitat of these rodent species coincides with areas associated with human infection risk. Our findings also indicate that MADV emerged recently in humans, and that the transmission cycles of these two sympatric alphaviruses differ spatially and in host utilization.
Author Summary
Arthropod-borne viruses are important causes of encephalitis. In 2010, the first documented human outbreak of the mosquito-borne, zoonotic Madariaga virus (MADV) occurred in the Darien region of Panama. Neither its epidemiology nor its transmission cycle is understood. In this study, the authors searched for possible animal hosts of this virus, and sought to describe its epidemiology. They contrast the findings with those for Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV), an endemic, genetically similar virus. Zygodontomys brevicauda, the short-tailed cane mouse, had the highest seroprevalence for MADV. This rodent species is most often found in pasture and farm land. Indeed, the risk factors for human MADV exposure were cattle ranching and farming. The animal with highest seroprevalence for VEEV, the long-whiskered rice rat (Transandinomys bolivaris), commonly occurs in forest, and the epidemiological risk factors included working in the forest. Farming and fishing were risk factors for exposure to both viruses, and having antibodies to one virus diminished the risk of being positive for the other. Increasing prevalence with age was seen for VEEV, confirming that VEEV is endemic in the region. This association was absent for MADV, suggesting that this virus emerged recently to infect humans.
PMCID: PMC4839771  PMID: 27101567
7.  High-Resolution Functional Mapping of the Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Virus Genome by Insertional Mutagenesis and Massively Parallel Sequencing 
PLoS Pathogens  2010;6(10):e1001146.
We have developed a high-resolution genomic mapping technique that combines transposon-mediated insertional mutagenesis with either capillary electrophoresis or massively parallel sequencing to identify functionally important regions of the Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) genome. We initially used a capillary electrophoresis method to gain insight into the role of the VEEV nonstructural protein 3 (nsP3) in viral replication. We identified several regions in nsP3 that are intolerant to small (15 bp) insertions, and thus are presumably functionally important. We also identified nine separate regions in nsP3 that will tolerate small insertions at low temperatures (30°C), but not at higher temperatures (37°C, and 40°C). Because we found this method to be extremely effective at identifying temperature sensitive (ts) mutations, but limited by capillary electrophoresis capacity, we replaced the capillary electrophoresis with massively parallel sequencing and used the improved method to generate a functional map of the entire VEEV genome. We identified several hundred potential ts mutations throughout the genome and we validated several of the mutations in nsP2, nsP3, E3, E2, E1 and capsid using single-cycle growth curve experiments with virus generated through reverse genetics. We further demonstrated that two of the nsP3 ts mutants were attenuated for virulence in mice but could elicit protective immunity against challenge with wild-type VEEV. The recombinant ts mutants will be valuable tools for further studies of VEEV replication and virulence. Moreover, the method that we developed is applicable for generating such tools for any virus with a robust reverse genetics system.
Author Summary
Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) is a New World Alphavirus that was first identified in Venezuela in 1938. VEEV normally circulates in rodent populations, but during outbreaks it can jump to horses and humans where it can cause debilitating and potentially fatal disease. There are currently no vaccines or antiviral agents against VEEV licensed for use in humans. In this study, we describe a technique that we have developed that allows for the rapid identification of viral mutants that can be useful for studying the basic biology of viral replication. These mutants can also be used to generate vaccines that protect against infection with wild-type virus. We demonstrate the utility of this technique by identifying over 200 mutations spread throughout VEEV genome that make the virus unable to replicate efficiently at higher temperatures (37°C or 40°C.) Furthermore, we show that two of the mutant viruses work as vaccines, and protect mice against lethal infection with VEEV. This technique can be applied to studying other viruses, and may allow for the rapid identification of numerous vaccine candidates.
PMCID: PMC2954836  PMID: 20976195
8.  Novel Vaccine against Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Combines Advantages of DNA Immunization and a Live Attenuated Vaccine 
Vaccine  2012;31(7):1019-1025.
DNA vaccines combine remarkable genetic and chemical stability with proven safety and efficacy in animal models, while remaining less immunogenic in humans. In contrast, live-attenuated vaccines have the advantage of inducing rapid, robust, long-term immunity after a single-dose vaccination. Here we describe novel iDNA vaccine technology that is based on an infectious DNA platform and combines advantages of DNA and live attenuated vaccines. We applied this technology for vaccination against infection with Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV), an alphavirus from the Togaviridae family. The iDNA vaccine is based on transcription of the full-length genomic RNA of the TC-83 live-attenuated virus from plasmid DNA in vivo. The in vivo-generated viral RNA initiates limited replication of the vaccine virus, which in turn leads to efficient immunization. This technology allows the plasmid DNA to launch a live-attenuated vaccine in vitro or in vivo. Less than 10 ng of pTC83 iDNA encoding the full-length genomic RNA of the TC-83 vaccine strain initiated replication of the vaccine virus in vitro. In order to evaluate this approach in vivo, BALB/c mice were vaccinated with a single dose of pTC83 iDNA. After vaccination, all mice seroconverted with no adverse reactions. Four weeks after immunization, animals were challenged with the lethal epidemic strain of VEEV. All iDNA-vaccinated mice were protected from fatal disease, while all unvaccinated controls succumbed to infection and died. To our knowledge, this is the first example of launching a clinical live-attenuated vaccine from recombinant plasmid DNA in vivo.
PMCID: PMC3556218  PMID: 23287629
DNA vaccine; live attenuated virus; infectious DNA; Venezuelan equine encephalitis; VEE; TC-83
9.  Genetic and Anatomic Determinants of Enzootic Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Virus Infection of Culex (Melanoconion) taeniopus 
Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE) is a re-emerging, mosquito-borne viral disease with the potential to cause fatal encephalitis in both humans and equids. Recently, detection of endemic VEE caused by enzootic strains has escalated in Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador, emphasizing the importance of understanding the enzootic transmission cycle of the etiologic agent, VEE virus (VEEV). The majority of work examining the viral determinants of vector infection has been performed in the epizootic mosquito vector, Aedes (Ochlerotatus) taeniorhynchus. Based on the fundamental differences between the epizootic and enzootic cycles, we hypothesized that the virus-vector interaction of the enzootic cycle is fundamentally different from that of the epizootic model. We therefore examined the determinants for VEEV IE infection in the enzootic vector, Culex (Melanoconion) taeniopus, and determined the number and susceptibility of midgut epithelial cells initially infected and their distribution compared to the epizootic virus-vector interaction. Using chimeric viruses, we demonstrated that the determinants of infection for the enzootic vector are different than those observed for the epizootic vector. Similarly, we showed that, unlike A. taeniorhynchus infection with subtype IC VEEV, C. taeniopus does not have a limited subpopulation of midgut cells susceptible to subtype IE VEEV. These findings support the hypothesis that the enzootic VEEV relationship with C. taeniopus differs from the epizootic virus-vector interaction in that the determinants appear to be found in both the nonstructural and structural regions, and initial midgut infection is not limited to a small population of susceptible cells.
Author Summary
Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) is transmitted to humans and horses by mosquitoes in Mexico, Central and South America. These infections can lead to fatal encephalitis in humans as well as horses, donkeys and mules, and there are no licensed vaccines or treatments available for humans. VEEV circulates in two distinct transmission cycles (epizootic and enzootic), which are differentiated by the ecological niche that each virus inhabits. Epizootic strains, those that cause major outbreaks in humans and equids, have been studied extensively and have been used primarily to develop and test several vaccine candidates. In this study, we demonstrate some important differences in the roles of different viral genes between enzootic/endemic versus epizootic VEEV strains that affect mosquito infection as well as differences in the way that enzootic VEEV more efficiently infects the mosquito initially. Our findings have important implications for designing vaccines and for understanding the evolution of VEEV-mosquito interactions.
PMCID: PMC3317907  PMID: 22509419
10.  Genetic Characterization of Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Virus from Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru: Identification of a New Subtype ID Lineage 
Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) has been responsible for hundreds of thousands of human and equine cases of severe disease in the Americas. A passive surveillance study was conducted in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador to determine the arboviral etiology of febrile illness. Patients with suspected viral-associated, acute, undifferentiated febrile illness of <7 days duration were enrolled in the study and blood samples were obtained from each patient and assayed by virus isolation. Demographic and clinical information from each patient was also obtained at the time of voluntary enrollment. In 2005–2007, cases of Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE) were diagnosed for the first time in residents of Bolivia; the patients did not report traveling, suggesting endemic circulation of VEEV in Bolivia. In 2001 and 2003, VEE cases were also identified in Ecuador. Since 1993, VEEV has been continuously isolated from patients in Loreto, Peru, and more recently (2005), in Madre de Dios, Peru. We performed phylogenetic analyses with VEEV from Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru and compared their relationships to strains from other parts of South America. We found that VEEV subtype ID Panama/Peru genotype is the predominant one circulating in Peru. We also demonstrated that VEEV subtype ID strains circulating in Ecuador belong to the Colombia/Venezuela genotype and VEEV from Madre de Dios, Peru and Cochabamba, Bolivia belong to a new ID genotype. In summary, we identified a new major lineage of enzootic VEEV subtype ID, information that could aid in the understanding of the emergence and evolution of VEEV in South America.
Author Summary
Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) has been responsible for hundreds of thousands of human and equine cases of severe disease in the Americas. In 2005–2007, cases of Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE) were diagnosed for the first time in residents of Bolivia; the patients did not report traveling, suggesting endemic circulation of VEEV in Bolivia. In 2001 and 2003, VEE cases were also identified in Ecuador. We characterize recent VEEV from Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru and compared their relationships to strains from other parts of South America. We found that most VEEV from Peru grouped within a particular genetic lineage known to circulate in Panama and Peru whereas the VEEV circulating in Ecuador belong to a genetic lineage that circulates in Colombia and Venezuela. Importantly, the VEEV from Madre de Dios, Peru and Cochabamba, Bolivia belong to a new genetic lineage. This finding could aid in the understanding of the emergence and evolution of VEEV in South America and underscores the need for continuous monitoring for VEEV activity.
PMCID: PMC2734058  PMID: 19753102
11.  Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Virus Variants Lacking Transcription Inhibitory Functions Demonstrate Highly Attenuated Phenotype 
Journal of Virology  2014;89(1):71-82.
Alphaviruses represent a significant public health threat worldwide. They are transmitted by mosquitoes and cause a variety of human diseases ranging from severe meningoencephalitis to polyarthritis. To date, no efficient and safe vaccines have been developed against any alphavirus infection. However, in recent years, significant progress has been made in understanding the mechanism of alphavirus replication and virus-host interactions. These data have provided the possibility for the development of new rationally designed alphavirus vaccine candidates that combine efficient immunogenicity, high safety, and inability to revert to pathogenic phenotype. New attenuated variants of Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) designed in this study combine a variety of characteristics that independently contribute to a reduction in virulence. These constructs encode a noncytopathic VEEV capsid protein that is incapable of interfering with the innate immune response. The capsid-specific mutations strongly affect neurovirulence of the virus. In other constructs, they were combined with changes in control of capsid translation and an extensively mutated packaging signal. These modifications also affected the residual neurovirulence of the virus, but it remained immunogenic, and a single immunization protected mice against subsequent infection with epizootic VEEV. Similar approaches of attenuation can be applied to other encephalitogenic New World alphaviruses.
IMPORTANCE Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) is an important human and animal pathogen, which causes periodic outbreaks of highly debilitating disease. Despite a continuous public health threat, no safe and efficient vaccine candidates have been developed to date. In this study, we applied accumulated knowledge about the mechanism of VEEV replication, RNA packaging, and interaction with the host to design new VEEV vaccine candidates that demonstrate exceptionally high levels of safety due to a combination of extensive modifications in the viral genome. The introduced mutations did not affect RNA replication or structural protein synthesis but had deleterious effects on VEEV neuroinvasion and virulence. In spite of dramatically reduced virulence, the designed mutants remained highly immunogenic and protected mice against subsequent infection with epizootic VEEV. Similar methodologies can be applied for attenuation of other encephalitogenic New World alphaviruses.
PMCID: PMC4301144  PMID: 25320296
12.  Recombinant Sindbis/Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Virus Is Highly Attenuated and Immunogenic 
Journal of Virology  2003;77(17):9278-9286.
Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) is an important, naturally emerging zoonotic virus. VEEV was a significant human and equine pathogen for much of the past century, and recent outbreaks in Venezuela and Colombia (1995), with about 100,000 human cases, indicate that this virus still poses a serious public health threat. The live attenuated TC-83 vaccine strain of VEEV was developed in the 1960s using a traditional approach of serial passaging in tissue culture of the virulent Trinidad donkey (TrD) strain. This vaccine presents several problems, including adverse, sometimes severe reactions in many human vaccinees. The TC-83 strain also retains residual murine virulence and is lethal for suckling mice after intracerebral (i.c.) or subcutaneous (s.c.) inoculation. To overcome these negative effects, we developed a recombinant, chimeric Sindbis/VEE virus (SIN-83) that is more highly attenuated. The genome of this virus encoded the replicative enzymes and the cis-acting RNA elements derived from Sindbis virus (SINV), one of the least human-pathogenic alphaviruses. The structural proteins were derived from VEEV TC-83. The SIN-83 virus, which contained an additional adaptive mutation in the nsP2 gene, replicated efficiently in common cell lines and did not cause detectable disease in adult or suckling mice after either i.c. or s.c. inoculation. However, SIN-83-vaccinated mice were efficiently protected against challenge with pathogenic strains of VEEV. Our findings suggest that the use of the SINV genome as a vector for expression of structural proteins derived from more pathogenic, encephalitic alphaviruses is a promising strategy for alphavirus vaccine development.
PMCID: PMC187387  PMID: 12915543
13.  Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Virus Induces Apoptosis through the Unfolded Protein Response Activation of EGR1 
Journal of Virology  2016;90(7):3558-3572.
Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) is a previously weaponized arthropod-borne virus responsible for causing acute and fatal encephalitis in animal and human hosts. The increased circulation and spread in the Americas of VEEV and other encephalitic arboviruses, such as eastern equine encephalitis virus and West Nile virus, underscore the need for research aimed at characterizing the pathogenesis of viral encephalomyelitis for the development of novel medical countermeasures. The host-pathogen dynamics of VEEV Trinidad donkey-infected human astrocytoma U87MG cells were determined by carrying out RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) of poly(A) and mRNAs. To identify the critical alterations that take place in the host transcriptome following VEEV infection, samples were collected at 4, 8, and 16 h postinfection and RNA-Seq data were acquired using an Ion Torrent PGM platform. Differential expression of interferon response, stress response factors, and components of the unfolded protein response (UPR) was observed. The protein kinase RNA-like endoplasmic reticulum kinase (PERK) arm of the UPR was activated, as the expression of both activating transcription factor 4 (ATF4) and CHOP (DDIT3), critical regulators of the pathway, was altered after infection. Expression of the transcription factor early growth response 1 (EGR1) was induced in a PERK-dependent manner. EGR1−/− mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) demonstrated lower susceptibility to VEEV-induced cell death than isogenic wild-type MEFs, indicating that EGR1 modulates proapoptotic pathways following VEEV infection. The influence of EGR1 is of great importance, as neuronal damage can lead to long-term sequelae in individuals who have survived VEEV infection.
IMPORTANCE Alphaviruses represent a group of clinically relevant viruses transmitted by mosquitoes to humans. In severe cases, viral spread targets neuronal tissue, resulting in significant and life-threatening inflammation dependent on a combination of virus-host interactions. Currently there are no therapeutics for infections cause by encephalitic alphaviruses due to an incomplete understanding of their molecular pathogenesis. Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) is an alphavirus that is prevalent in the Americas and that is capable of infecting horses and humans. Here we utilized next-generation RNA sequencing to identify differential alterations in VEEV-infected astrocytes. Our results indicated that the abundance of transcripts associated with the interferon and the unfolded protein response pathways was altered following infection and demonstrated that early growth response 1 (EGR1) contributed to VEEV-induced cell death.
PMCID: PMC4794670  PMID: 26792742
14.  Evaluation in Nonhuman Primates of Vaccines against Ebola Virus 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2002;8(5):503-507.
Ebola virus (EBOV) causes acute hemorrhagic fever that is fatal in up to 90% of cases in both humans and nonhuman primates. No vaccines or treatments are available for human use. We evaluated the effects in nonhuman primates of vaccine strategies that had protected mice or guinea pigs from lethal EBOV infection. The following immunogens were used: RNA replicon particles derived from an attenuated strain of Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) expressing EBOV glycoprotein and nucleoprotein; recombinant Vaccinia virus expressing EBOV glycoprotein; liposomes containing lipid A and inactivated EBOV; and a concentrated, inactivated whole-virion preparation. None of these strategies successfully protected nonhuman primates from robust challenge with EBOV. The disease observed in primates differed from that in rodents, suggesting that rodent models of EBOV may not predict the efficacy of candidate vaccines in primates and that protection of primates may require different mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC3369765  PMID: 11996686
Keywords: Ebola; macaque; vaccine; Vaccinia virus; replicon
15.  Analysis of Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Virus Capsid Protein Function in the Inhibition of Cellular Transcription▿  
Journal of Virology  2007;81(24):13552-13565.
The encephalitogenic New World alphaviruses, including Venezuelan (VEEV), eastern (EEEV), and western equine encephalitis viruses, constitute a continuing public health threat in the United States. They circulate in Central, South, and North America and have the ability to cause fatal disease in humans and in horses and other domestic animals. We recently demonstrated that these viruses have developed the ability to interfere with cellular transcription and use it as a means of downregulating a cellular antiviral response. The results of the present study suggest that the N-terminal, ∼35-amino-acid-long peptide of VEEV and EEEV capsid proteins plays the most critical role in the downregulation of cellular transcription and development of a cytopathic effect. The identified VEEV-specific peptide CVEE33-68 includes two domains with distinct functions: the α-helix domain, helix I, which is critically involved in supporting the balance between the presence of the protein in the cytoplasm and nucleus, and the downstream peptide, which might contain a functional nuclear localization signal(s). The integrity of both domains not only determines the intracellular distribution of the VEEV capsid but is also essential for direct capsid protein functioning in the inhibition of transcription. Our results suggest that the VEEV capsid protein interacts with the nuclear pore complex, and this interaction correlates with the protein's ability to cause transcriptional shutoff and, ultimately, cell death. The replacement of the N-terminal fragment of the VEEV capsid by its Sindbis virus-specific counterpart in the VEEV TC-83 genome does not affect virus replication in vitro but reduces cytopathogenicity and results in attenuation in vivo. These findings can be used in designing a new generation of live, attenuated, recombinant vaccines against the New World alphaviruses.
PMCID: PMC2168819  PMID: 17913819
16.  Host responses to live-attenuated Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (TC-83) 
Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics  2012;8(8):1053-1065.
Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) is a positive-strand RNA Alphavirus endemic in Central and South America, and the causative agent of fatal encephalitis in humans. In an effort to better understand the mechanisms of infection, including differences between people who produce a neutralizing antibody response to the vaccine and those who do not, we performed whole genome transcriptional analysis in human PBMCs exposed in vitro to the live-attenuated vaccine strain of VEEV, TC-83. We compared the molecular responses in cells from three groups of individuals: naïve; previously vaccinated individuals who developed a neutralizing antibody response to the vaccine (responders); and those who did not develop a neutralizing antibody response to the vaccine (nonresponders). Overall, the changes in gene expression were more intense for the naïve group after TC-83 challenge and least potent in the nonresponder group. The main canonical pathways revealed the involvement of interferon and interferon-induced pathways, as well as toll-like receptors TLR- and interleukin (IL)-12-related pathways. HLA class II genotype and suppression of transcript expression for TLR2, TLR4 and TLR8 in the nonresponder group may help explain the lack of vaccine response in this study group. Because TL3 and TLR7 transcripts were elevated in all study groups, these factors may be indicators of the infection and not the immunological state of the individuals. Biomarkers were identified that differentiate between the vaccine responder and the vaccine nonresponder groups. The identified biomarkers were contrasted against transcripts that were unique to the naïve population alone upon induction with TC-83. Biomarker analysis allowed for the discernment between the naïve (innate) responses; the responder (recall) responses; and the nonresponder (alternative) changes to gene transcription that were caused by infection with TC-83. The study also points to the existence of HLA haplotypes that may discriminate between vaccine low- and high-responder phenotypes.
PMCID: PMC3551876  PMID: 22617845
biomarkers; gene expression; microarray; neutralizing antibody; vaccination; vaccine responder; Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus
17.  Influenza and Pneumococcal Vaccinations for Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) 
Executive Summary
In July 2010, the Medical Advisory Secretariat (MAS) began work on a Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) evidentiary framework, an evidence-based review of the literature surrounding treatment strategies for patients with COPD. This project emerged from a request by the Health System Strategy Division of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care that MAS provide them with an evidentiary platform on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of COPD interventions.
After an initial review of health technology assessments and systematic reviews of COPD literature, and consultation with experts, MAS identified the following topics for analysis: vaccinations (influenza and pneumococcal), smoking cessation, multidisciplinary care, pulmonary rehabilitation, long-term oxygen therapy, noninvasive positive pressure ventilation for acute and chronic respiratory failure, hospital-at-home for acute exacerbations of COPD, and telehealth (including telemonitoring and telephone support). Evidence-based analyses were prepared for each of these topics. For each technology, an economic analysis was also completed where appropriate. In addition, a review of the qualitative literature on patient, caregiver, and provider perspectives on living and dying with COPD was conducted, as were reviews of the qualitative literature on each of the technologies included in these analyses.
The Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Mega-Analysis series is made up of the following reports, which can be publicly accessed at the MAS website at:
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Evidentiary Framework
Influenza and Pneumococcal Vaccinations for Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Smoking Cessation for Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Community-Based Multidisciplinary Care for Patients With Stable Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Pulmonary Rehabilitation for Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Long-term Oxygen Therapy for Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Noninvasive Positive Pressure Ventilation for Acute Respiratory Failure Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Noninvasive Positive Pressure Ventilation for Chronic Respiratory Failure Patients With Stable Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Hospital-at-Home Programs for Patients with Acute Exacerbations of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Home Telehealth for Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Cost-Effectiveness of Interventions for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Using an Ontario Policy Model
Experiences of Living and Dying With COPD: A Systematic Review and Synthesis of the Qualitative Empirical Literature
For more information on the qualitative review, please contact Mita Giacomini at:
For more information on the economic analysis, please visit the PATH website:
The Toronto Health Economics and Technology Assessment (THETA) collaborative has produced an associated report on patient preference for mechanical ventilation. For more information, please visit the THETA website:
The objective of this analysis was to determine the effectiveness of the influenza vaccination and the pneumococcal vaccination in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in reducing the incidence of influenza-related illness or pneumococcal pneumonia.
Clinical Need: Condition and Target Population
Influenza Disease
Influenza is a global threat. It is believed that the risk of a pandemic of influenza still exists. Three pandemics occurred in the 20th century which resulted in millions of deaths worldwide. The fourth pandemic of H1N1 influenza occurred in 2009 and affected countries in all continents.
Rates of serious illness due to influenza viruses are high among older people and patients with chronic conditions such as COPD. The influenza viruses spread from person to person through sneezing and coughing. Infected persons can transfer the virus even a day before their symptoms start. The incubation period is 1 to 4 days with a mean of 2 days. Symptoms of influenza infection include fever, shivering, dry cough, headache, runny or stuffy nose, muscle ache, and sore throat. Other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can occur.
Complications of influenza infection include viral pneumonia, secondary bacterial pneumonia, and other secondary bacterial infections such as bronchitis, sinusitis, and otitis media. In viral pneumonia, patients develop acute fever and dyspnea, and may further show signs and symptoms of hypoxia. The organisms involved in bacterial pneumonia are commonly identified as Staphylococcus aureus and Hemophilus influenza. The incidence of secondary bacterial pneumonia is most common in the elderly and those with underlying conditions such as congestive heart disease and chronic bronchitis.
Healthy people usually recover within one week but in very young or very old people and those with underlying medical conditions such as COPD, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, influenza is associated with higher risks and may lead to hospitalization and in some cases death. The cause of hospitalization or death in many cases is viral pneumonia or secondary bacterial pneumonia. Influenza infection can lead to the exacerbation of COPD or an underlying heart disease.
Streptococcal Pneumonia
Streptococcus pneumoniae, also known as pneumococcus, is an encapsulated Gram-positive bacterium that often colonizes in the nasopharynx of healthy children and adults. Pneumococcus can be transmitted from person to person during close contact. The bacteria can cause illnesses such as otitis media and sinusitis, and may become more aggressive and affect other areas of the body such as the lungs, brain, joints, and blood stream. More severe infections caused by pneumococcus are pneumonia, bacterial sepsis, meningitis, peritonitis, arthritis, osteomyelitis, and in rare cases, endocarditis and pericarditis.
People with impaired immune systems are susceptible to pneumococcal infection. Young children, elderly people, patients with underlying medical conditions including chronic lung or heart disease, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, sickle cell disease, and people who have undergone a splenectomy are at a higher risk for acquiring pneumococcal pneumonia.
Influenza and Pneumococcal Vaccines
Trivalent Influenza Vaccines in Canada
In Canada, 5 trivalent influenza vaccines are currently authorized for use by injection. Four of these are formulated for intramuscular use and the fifth product (Intanza®) is formulated for intradermal use.
The 4 vaccines for intramuscular use are:
Fluviral (GlaxoSmithKline), split virus, inactivated vaccine, for use in adults and children ≥ 6 months;
Vaxigrip (Sanofi Pasteur), split virus inactivated vaccine, for use in adults and children ≥ 6 months;
Agriflu (Novartis), surface antigen inactivated vaccine, for use in adults and children ≥ 6 months; and
Influvac (Abbott), surface antigen inactivated vaccine, for use in persons ≥ 18 years of age.
FluMist is a live attenuated virus in the form of an intranasal spray for persons aged 2 to 59 years. Immunization with current available influenza vaccines is not recommended for infants less than 6 months of age.
Pneumococcal Vaccine
Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccines were developed more than 50 years ago and have progressed from 2-valent vaccines to the current 23-valent vaccines to prevent diseases caused by 23 of the most common serotypes of S pneumoniae. Canada-wide estimates suggest that approximately 90% of cases of pneumococcal bacteremia and meningitis are caused by these 23 serotypes. Health Canada has issued licenses for 2 types of 23-valent vaccines to be injected intramuscularly or subcutaneously:
Pneumovax 23® (Merck & Co Inc. Whitehouse Station, NJ, USA), and
Pneumo 23® (Sanofi Pasteur SA, Lion, France) for persons 2 years of age and older.
Other types of pneumococcal vaccines licensed in Canada are for pediatric use. Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine is injected only once. A second dose is applied only in some conditions.
Research Questions
What is the effectiveness of the influenza vaccination and the pneumococcal vaccination compared with no vaccination in COPD patients?
What is the safety of these 2 vaccines in COPD patients?
What is the budget impact and cost-effectiveness of these 2 vaccines in COPD patients?
Research Methods
Literature search
Search Strategy
A literature search was performed on July 5, 2010 using OVID MEDLINE, MEDLINE In-Process and Other Non-Indexed Citations, EMBASE, the Cumulative Index to Nursing & Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), the Cochrane Library, and the International Agency for Health Technology Assessment (INAHTA) for studies published from January 1, 2000 to July 5, 2010. The search was updated monthly through the AutoAlert function of the search up to January 31, 2011. Abstracts were reviewed by a single reviewer and, for those studies meeting the eligibility criteria, full-text articles were obtained. Articles with an unknown eligibility were reviewed with a second clinical epidemiologist and then a group of epidemiologists until consensus was established. Data extraction was carried out by the author.
Inclusion Criteria
studies comparing clinical efficacy of the influenza vaccine or the pneumococcal vaccine with no vaccine or placebo;
randomized controlled trials published between January 1, 2000 and January 31, 2011;
studies including patients with COPD only;
studies investigating the efficacy of types of vaccines approved by Health Canada;
English language studies.
Exclusion Criteria
non-randomized controlled trials;
studies investigating vaccines for other diseases;
studies comparing different variations of vaccines;
studies in which patients received 2 or more types of vaccines;
studies comparing different routes of administering vaccines;
studies not reporting clinical efficacy of the vaccine or reporting immune response only;
studies investigating the efficacy of vaccines not approved by Health Canada.
Outcomes of Interest
Primary Outcomes
Influenza vaccination: Episodes of acute respiratory illness due to the influenza virus.
Pneumococcal vaccination: Time to the first episode of community-acquired pneumonia either due to pneumococcus or of unknown etiology.
Secondary Outcomes
rate of hospitalization and mechanical ventilation
mortality rate
adverse events
Quality of Evidence
The quality of each included study was assessed taking into consideration allocation concealment, randomization, blinding, power/sample size, withdrawals/dropouts, and intention-to-treat analyses. The quality of the body of evidence was assessed as high, moderate, low, or very low according to the GRADE Working Group criteria. The following definitions of quality were used in grading the quality of the evidence:
Summary of Efficacy of the Influenza Vaccination in Immunocompetent Patients With COPD
Clinical Effectiveness
The influenza vaccination was associated with significantly fewer episodes of influenza-related acute respiratory illness (ARI). The incidence density of influenza-related ARI was:
All patients: vaccine group: (total of 4 cases) = 6.8 episodes per 100 person-years; placebo group: (total of 17 cases) = 28.1 episodes per 100 person-years, (relative risk [RR], 0.2; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.06−0.70; P = 0.005).
Patients with severe airflow obstruction (forced expiratory volume in 1 second [FEV1] < 50% predicted): vaccine group: (total of 1 case) = 4.6 episodes per 100 person-years; placebo group: (total of 7 cases) = 31.2 episodes per 100 person-years, (RR, 0.1; 95% CI, 0.003−1.1; P = 0.04).
Patients with moderate airflow obstruction (FEV1 50%−69% predicted): vaccine group: (total of 2 cases) = 13.2 episodes per 100 person-years; placebo group: (total of 4 cases) = 23.8 episodes per 100 person-years, (RR, 0.5; 95% CI, 0.05−3.8; P = 0.5).
Patients with mild airflow obstruction (FEV1 ≥ 70% predicted): vaccine group: (total of 1 case) = 4.5 episodes per 100 person-years; placebo group: (total of 6 cases) = 28.2 episodes per 100 person-years, (RR, 0.2; 95% CI, 0.003−1.3; P = 0.06).
The Kaplan-Meier survival analysis showed a significant difference between the vaccinated group and the placebo group regarding the probability of not acquiring influenza-related ARI (log-rank test P value = 0.003). Overall, the vaccine effectiveness was 76%. For categories of mild, moderate, or severe COPD the vaccine effectiveness was 84%, 45%, and 85% respectively.
With respect to hospitalization, fewer patients in the vaccine group compared with the placebo group were hospitalized due to influenza-related ARIs, although these differences were not statistically significant. The incidence density of influenza-related ARIs that required hospitalization was 3.4 episodes per 100 person-years in the vaccine group and 8.3 episodes per 100 person-years in the placebo group (RR, 0.4; 95% CI, 0.04−2.5; P = 0.3; log-rank test P value = 0.2). Also, no statistically significant differences between the 2 groups were observed for the 3 categories of severity of COPD.
Fewer patients in the vaccine group compared with the placebo group required mechanical ventilation due to influenza-related ARIs. However, these differences were not statistically significant. The incidence density of influenza-related ARIs that required mechanical ventilation was 0 episodes per 100 person-years in the vaccine group and 5 episodes per 100 person-years in the placebo group (RR, 0.0; 95% CI, 0−2.5; P = 0.1; log-rank test P value = 0.4). In addition, no statistically significant differences between the 2 groups were observed for the 3 categories of severity of COPD. The effectiveness of the influenza vaccine in preventing influenza-related ARIs and influenza-related hospitalization was not related to age, sex, severity of COPD, smoking status, or comorbid diseases.
Overall, significantly more patients in the vaccine group than the placebo group experienced local adverse reactions (vaccine: 17 [27%], placebo: 4 [6%]; P = 0.002). Significantly more patients in the vaccine group than the placebo group experienced swelling (vaccine 4, placebo 0; P = 0.04) and itching (vaccine 4, placebo 0; P = 0.04). Systemic reactions included headache, myalgia, fever, and skin rash and there were no significant differences between the 2 groups for these reactions (vaccine: 47 [76%], placebo: 51 [81%], P = 0.5).
With respect to lung function, dyspneic symptoms, and exercise capacity, there were no significant differences between the 2 groups at 1 week and at 4 weeks in: FEV1, maximum inspiratory pressure at residual volume, oxygen saturation level of arterial blood, visual analogue scale for dyspneic symptoms, and the 6 Minute Walking Test for exercise capacity.
There was no significant difference between the 2 groups with regard to the probability of not acquiring total ARIs (influenza-related and/or non-influenza-related); (log-rank test P value = 0.6).
Summary of Efficacy of the Pneumococcal Vaccination in Immunocompetent Patients With COPD
Clinical Effectiveness
The Kaplan-Meier survival analysis showed no significant differences between the group receiving the penumoccocal vaccination and the control group for time to the first episode of community-acquired pneumonia due to pneumococcus or of unknown etiology (log-rank test 1.15; P = 0.28). Overall, vaccine efficacy was 24% (95% CI, −24 to 54; P = 0.33).
With respect to the incidence of pneumococcal pneumonia, the Kaplan-Meier survival analysis showed a significant difference between the 2 groups (vaccine: 0/298; control: 5/298; log-rank test 5.03; P = 0.03).
Hospital admission rates and median length of hospital stays were lower in the vaccine group, but the difference was not statistically significant. The mortality rate was not different between the 2 groups.
Subgroup Analysis
The Kaplan-Meier survival analysis showed significant differences between the vaccine and control groups for pneumonia due to pneumococcus and pneumonia of unknown etiology, and when data were analyzed according to subgroups of patients (age < 65 years, and severe airflow obstruction FEV1 < 40% predicted). The accumulated percentage of patients without pneumonia (due to pneumococcus and of unknown etiology) across time was significantly lower in the vaccine group than in the control group in patients younger than 65 years of age (log-rank test 6.68; P = 0.0097) and patients with a FEV1 less than 40% predicted (log-rank test 3.85; P = 0.0498).
Vaccine effectiveness was 76% (95% CI, 20−93; P = 0.01) for patients who were less than 65 years of age and −14% (95% CI, −107 to 38; P = 0.8) for those who were 65 years of age or older. Vaccine effectiveness for patients with a FEV1 less than 40% predicted and FEV1 greater than or equal to 40% predicted was 48% (95% CI, −7 to 80; P = 0.08) and −11% (95% CI, −132 to 47; P = 0.95), respectively. For patients who were less than 65 years of age (FEV1 < 40% predicted), vaccine effectiveness was 91% (95% CI, 35−99; P = 0.002).
Cox modelling showed that the effectiveness of the vaccine was dependent on the age of the patient. The vaccine was not effective in patients 65 years of age or older (hazard ratio, 1.53; 95% CI, 0.61−a2.17; P = 0.66) but it reduced the risk of acquiring pneumonia by 80% in patients less than 65 years of age (hazard ratio, 0.19; 95% CI, 0.06−0.66; P = 0.01).
No patients reported any local or systemic adverse reactions to the vaccine.
PMCID: PMC3384373  PMID: 23074431
18.  Development of a novel monoclonal antibody with reactivity to a wide range of Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus strains 
Virology Journal  2009;6:206.
There is currently a requirement for antiviral therapies capable of protecting against infection with Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV), as a licensed vaccine is not available for general human use. Monoclonal antibodies are increasingly being developed as therapeutics and are potential treatments for VEEV as they have been shown to be protective in the mouse model of disease. However, to be truly effective, the antibody should recognise multiple strains of VEEV and broadly reactive monoclonal antibodies are rarely and only coincidentally isolated using classical hybridoma technology.
In this work, methods were developed to reliably derive broadly reactive murine antibodies. A phage library was created that expressed single chain variable fragments (scFv) isolated from mice immunised with multiple strains of VEEV. A broadly reactive scFv was identified and incorporated into a murine IgG2a framework. This novel antibody retained the broad reactivity exhibited by the scFv but did not possess virus neutralising activity. However, the antibody was still able to protect mice against VEEV disease induced by strain TrD when administered 24 h prior to challenge.
A monoclonal antibody possessing reactivity to a wide range of VEEV strains may be of benefit as a generic antiviral therapy. However, humanisation of the murine antibody will be required before it can be tested in humans.
Crown Copyright © 2009
PMCID: PMC2783036  PMID: 19925641
19.  4.4 Å cryo-EM structure of an enveloped alphavirus Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus 
The EMBO Journal  2011;30(18):3854-3863.
4.4 Å cryo-EM structure of an enveloped alphavirus Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus
This study uses high-resolution cryo-electron microscopy to provide a complete structural model of the VEEV alphavirus, bridging the gap between incomplete crystal structures and lower resolution electron microscopy analyses.
Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV), a member of the membrane-containing Alphavirus genus, is a human and equine pathogen, and has been developed as a biological weapon. Using electron cryo-microscopy (cryo-EM), we determined the structure of an attenuated vaccine strain, TC-83, of VEEV to 4.4 Å resolution. Our density map clearly resolves regions (including E1, E2 transmembrane helices and cytoplasmic tails) that were missing in the crystal structures of domains of alphavirus subunits. These new features are implicated in the fusion, assembly and budding processes of alphaviruses. Furthermore, our map reveals the unexpected E3 protein, which is cleaved and generally thought to be absent in the mature VEEV. Our structural results suggest a mechanism for the initial stage of nucleocapsid core formation, and shed light on the virulence attenuation, host recognition and neutralizing activities of VEEV and other alphavirus pathogens.
PMCID: PMC3173789  PMID: 21829169
alphavirus; bioweapon; cryo-EM; modelling; VEEV
20.  Combined Alphavirus Replicon Particle Vaccine Induces Durable and Cross-Protective Immune Responses against Equine Encephalitis Viruses 
Journal of Virology  2014;88(20):12077-12086.
Alphavirus replicons were evaluated as potential vaccine candidates for Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV), western equine encephalitis virus (WEEV), or eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEV) when given individually or in combination (V/W/E) to mice or cynomolgus macaques. Individual replicon vaccines or the combination V/W/E replicon vaccine elicited strong neutralizing antibodies in mice to their respective alphavirus. Protection from either subcutaneous or aerosol challenge with VEEV, WEEV, or EEEV was demonstrated out to 12 months after vaccination in mice. Individual replicon vaccines or the combination V/W/E replicon vaccine elicited strong neutralizing antibodies in macaques and demonstrated good protection against aerosol challenge with an epizootic VEEV-IAB virus, Trinidad donkey. Similarly, the EEEV replicon and V/W/E combination vaccine elicited neutralizing antibodies against EEEV and protected against aerosol exposure to a North American variety of EEEV. Both the WEEV replicon and combination V/W/E vaccination, however, elicited poor neutralizing antibodies to WEEV in macaques, and the protection conferred was not as strong. These results demonstrate that a combination V/W/E vaccine is possible for protection against aerosol challenge and that cross-interference between the vaccines is minimal.
IMPORTANCE Three related viruses belonging to the genus Alphavirus cause severe encephalitis in humans: Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV), western equine encephalitis virus (WEEV), and eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEV). Normally transmitted by mosquitoes, these viruses can cause disease when inhaled, so there is concern that these viruses could be used as biological weapons. Prior reports have suggested that vaccines for these three viruses might interfere with one another. We have developed a combined vaccine for Venezuelan equine encephalitis, western equine encephalitis, and eastern equine encephalitis expressing the surface proteins of all three viruses. In this report we demonstrate in both mice and macaques that this combined vaccine is safe, generates a strong immune response, and protects against aerosol challenge with the viruses that cause Venezuelan equine encephalitis, western equine encephalitis, and eastern equine encephalitis.
PMCID: PMC4178741  PMID: 25122801
21.  Live, Attenuated Influenza A H5N1 Candidate Vaccines Provide Broad Cross-Protection in Mice and Ferrets 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(9):e360.
Recent outbreaks of highly pathogenic influenza A H5N1 viruses in humans and avian species that began in Asia and have spread to other continents underscore an urgent need to develop vaccines that would protect the human population in the event of a pandemic.
Methods and Findings
Live, attenuated candidate vaccines possessing genes encoding a modified H5 hemagglutinin (HA) and a wild-type (wt) N1 neuraminidase from influenza A H5N1 viruses isolated in Hong Kong and Vietnam in 1997, 2003, and 2004, and remaining gene segments derived from the cold-adapted (ca) influenza A vaccine donor strain, influenza A/Ann Arbor/6/60 ca (H2N2), were generated by reverse genetics. The H5N1 ca vaccine viruses required trypsin for efficient growth in vitro, as predicted by the modification engineered in the gene encoding the HA, and possessed the temperature-sensitive and attenuation phenotypes specified by the internal protein genes of the ca vaccine donor strain. More importantly, the candidate vaccines were immunogenic in mice. Four weeks after receiving a single dose of 106 50% tissue culture infectious doses of intranasally administered vaccines, mice were fully protected from lethality following challenge with homologous and antigenically distinct heterologous wt H5N1 viruses from different genetic sublineages (clades 1, 2, and 3) that were isolated in Asia between 1997 and 2005. Four weeks after receiving two doses of the vaccines, mice and ferrets were fully protected against pulmonary replication of homologous and heterologous wt H5N1 viruses.
The promising findings in these preclinical studies of safety, immunogenicity, and efficacy of the H5N1 ca vaccines against antigenically diverse H5N1 vaccines provide support for their careful evaluation in Phase 1 clinical trials in humans.
Promising preclinical results on safety, immunogenicity, and efficacy against diverse H5N1 strains provide support for careful evaluation of live, attenuated H5N1 vaccines in clinical trials in humans.
Editors' Summary
Influenza A viruses are classified into subtypes according to two of the proteins from the virus surface, the hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA) proteins, each of which occurs naturally in several different versions. For example, the global epidemic (pandemic) of 1918–1919 was caused by an influenza virus containing subtype 1 hemagglutinin and subtype 1 neuraminidase (H1N1), the 1957–1958 pandemic involved an H2N2 virus, and the 1969 pandemic, H3N2. Since 1997, several serious outbreaks of H5N1 infection have occurred in poultry and in humans, raising concerns that H5N1 “bird flu” may cause the next human influenza pandemic. Although human-to-human transmission of H5N1 viruses appears limited, mortality rates in human outbreaks of the disease have been alarmingly high—approximately 50%. A protective vaccine against H5N1 influenza might not only benefit regions where transmission from poultry to humans occurs, but could conceivably avert global catastrophe in the event that H5N1 evolves such that human-to-human spread becomes more frequent.
Why Was This Study Done?
Several approaches are in progress to develop vaccines against H5N1 viruses. To date, the products that have been tested in humans have not been very effective in producing a strong immune response. To be optimal for human use, a vaccine would have to be very safe, remain stable in storage, and provide protection against influenza caused by naturally occurring H5N1 viruses that are not precisely identical to the ones used to make the vaccine. This study was done to develop a new H5N1 vaccine and to test it in animals.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers developed vaccines using three artificially constructed, weakened forms of the H5N1 influenza virus. The three vaccine viruses were constructed using flu virus proteins other than HA and NA from an artificially weakened (attenuated) strain of influenza. These were combined in laboratory-grown cells with HA and NA proteins from H5N1 viruses isolated from human cases during three different years: 2004, 2003, and 1997. They grew larger quantities of the resulting viruses in hen's eggs, and tested the vaccines in chickens, ferrets, and mice.
In tests of safety, the study found that, unlike the natural viruses from which they were derived, the vaccine strains did not cause death when injected into the bloodstream of chickens, and did not even cause infection when given through the birds' breathing passages. Similarly, while the natural viruses were lethal in mice at various doses, the vaccine strains did not cause death even at the highest dose. In ferrets, infection with the vaccine strains was limited to the upper respiratory tract, while the natural viruses spread to the lungs and other organs.
In tests of protection, all mice that had received any of the three vaccines survived following infection with any of the natural viruses (so-called viral challenge), while unvaccinated mice died following viral challenge. This occurred even though standard blood tests could not detect a strong immune responses following a single dose of vaccine. Challenge virus was detected in the lungs of the immunized mice, but at lower levels than in the unvaccinated mice. Mice given two doses of a vaccine showed stronger immunity on blood tests, and almost complete protection from respiratory infection following challenge. In addition, mice and ferrets that had received two doses of vaccine were protected against challenge with H5N1 strains from more recent outbreaks in Asia that differed substantially from the strains that were used for the vaccine.
What Do These Findings Mean?
This study shows that it is possible to create a live, attenuated vaccine based on a single H5N1 virus that can provide protection (in mice and ferrets, at least) against different H5N1 viruses that emerge years later. Attenuated influenza virus vaccines of this sort are unlikely to be useful to protect fowl because they do not infect or induce an immune response in chickens. However, while the safety and protection found in small animals are encouraging, it is not possible to know without human testing whether a vaccine that protects mice and ferrets will work in humans, or how this type of vaccine may compare with others being developed for use in humans against H5N1 influenza. Tests of one of the vaccines in human volunteers in carefully conducted clinical trials are currently under way.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
WHO Influenza Pandemic Preparedness page
US Department of Health and Human Services Avian and Pandemic flu information site
Wikipedia entry on H5N1 (note: Wikipedia is a free Internet encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
CDC Avian Influenza Web page
PMCID: PMC1564176  PMID: 16968127
22.  Side-by-Side Comparison of Gene-Based Smallpox Vaccine with MVA in Nonhuman Primates 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e42353.
Orthopoxviruses remain a threat as biological weapons and zoonoses. The licensed live-virus vaccine is associated with serious health risks, making its general usage unacceptable. Attenuated vaccines are being developed as alternatives, the most advanced of which is modified-vaccinia virus Ankara (MVA). We previously developed a gene-based vaccine, termed 4pox, which targets four orthopoxvirus antigens, A33, B5, A27 and L1. This vaccine protects mice and non-human primates from lethal orthopoxvirus disease. Here, we investigated the capacity of the molecular adjuvants GM-CSF and Escherichia coli heat-labile enterotoxin (LT) to enhance the efficacy of the 4pox gene-based vaccine. Both adjuvants significantly increased protective antibody responses in mice. We directly compared the 4pox plus LT vaccine against MVA in a monkeypox virus (MPXV) nonhuman primate (NHP) challenge model. NHPs were vaccinated twice with MVA by intramuscular injection or the 4pox/LT vaccine delivered using a disposable gene gun device. As a positive control, one NHP was vaccinated with ACAM2000. NHPs vaccinated with each vaccine developed anti-orthopoxvirus antibody responses, including those against the 4pox antigens. After MPXV intravenous challenge, all control NHPs developed severe disease, while the ACAM2000 vaccinated animal was well protected. All NHPs vaccinated with MVA were protected from lethality, but three of five developed severe disease and all animals shed virus. All five NHPs vaccinated with 4pox/LT survived and only one developed severe disease. None of the 4pox/LT-vaccinated animals shed virus. Our findings show, for the first time, that a subunit orthopoxvirus vaccine delivered by the same schedule can provide a degree of protection at least as high as that of MVA.
PMCID: PMC3409187  PMID: 22860117
23.  A DNA Vaccine for Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Virus Delivered by Intramuscular Electroporation Elicits High Levels of Neutralizing Antibodies in Multiple Animal Models and Provides Protective Immunity to Mice and Nonhuman Primates ▿ 
We evaluated the immunogenicity and protective efficacy of a DNA vaccine expressing codon-optimized envelope glycoprotein genes of Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) when delivered by intramuscular electroporation. Mice vaccinated with the DNA vaccine developed robust VEEV-neutralizing antibody responses that were comparable to those observed after administration of the live-attenuated VEEV vaccine TC-83 and were completely protected from a lethal aerosol VEEV challenge. The DNA vaccine also elicited strong neutralizing antibody responses in rabbits that persisted at high levels for at least 6 months and could be boosted by a single additional electroporation administration of the DNA performed approximately 6 months after the initial vaccinations. Cynomolgus macaques that received the vaccine by intramuscular electroporation developed substantial neutralizing antibody responses and after an aerosol challenge had no detectable serum viremia and had reduced febrile reactions, lymphopenia, and clinical signs of disease compared to those of negative-control macaques. Taken together, our results demonstrate that this DNA vaccine provides a potent means of protecting against VEEV infections and represents an attractive candidate for further development.
PMCID: PMC3122536  PMID: 21450977
24.  Isolation and Characterisation of a Human-Like Antibody Fragment (scFv) That Inactivates VEEV In Vitro and In Vivo 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(5):e37242.
Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) belongs to the Alphavirus genus and several species of this family are pathogenic to humans. The viruses are classified as potential agents of biological warfare and terrorism and sensitive detection as well as effective prophylaxis and antiviral therapies are required.
In this work, we describe the isolation of the anti-VEEV single chain Fragment variable (scFv), ToR67-3B4, from a non-human primate (NHP) antibody gene library. We report its recloning into the bivalent scFv-Fc format and further immunological and biochemical characterisation.
The scFv-Fc ToR67-3B4 recognised viable as well as formalin and ß-propionolactone (ß-Pl) inactivated virus particles and could be applied for immunoblot analysis of VEEV proteins and immuno-histochemistry of VEEV infected cells. It detected specifically the viral E1 envelope protein of VEEV but did not react with reduced viral glycoprotein preparations suggesting that recognition depends upon conformational epitopes. The recombinant antibody was able to detect multiple VEEV subtypes and displayed only marginal cross-reactivity to other Alphavirus species except for EEEV. In addition, the scFv-Fc fusion described here might be of therapeutic use since it successfully inactivated VEEV in a murine disease model. When the recombinant antibody was administered 6 hours post challenge, 80% to 100% of mice survived lethal VEEV IA/B or IE infection. Forty to sixty percent of mice survived when scFv-Fc ToR67-3B4 was applied 6 hours post challenge with VEEV subtypes II and former IIIA. In combination with E2-neutralising antibodies the NHP antibody isolated here could significantly improve passive protection as well as generic therapy of VEE.
PMCID: PMC3364240  PMID: 22666347
25.  Treatment of Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Virus Infection with (-)-Carbodine 
Antiviral research  2008;80(3):309-315.
Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) may cause encephalitis in humans, for which no FDA-approved antiviral treatment is available. Carbocyclic cytosine (carbodine) has broad-spectrum activity but toxicity has limited its utility. It was anticipated that one of the enantiomers of carbodine would show enhanced activity and reduced toxicity. The activity of the D-(-) enantiomer of carbodine [(-)-carbodine] was evaluated by infectious cell culture assay and was found to have a 50% effective concentration (EC50) of 0.2 μg/ml against the TC-83 vaccine strain of VEEV in Vero cells, while the L-(+) enantiomer had no activity. Virus titer inhibition correlated with intracellular cytidine triphosphate reduction after treatment with (-)-carbodine, as determined by HPLC analysis. Pre-treatment with 200 mg/kg/d resulted in significant improvement in survival, virus load in the brain, weight change, and mean day to death in a mouse model of TC-83 VEEV disease. A single dose of (-)-Carbodine resulted in a slight extension of mean time to death in mice infected with wild-type VEEV. Post-virus exposure treatment with (-)-carbodine was effective in significantly improving disease parameters in mice infected with TC-83 VEEV when treatment was initiated as late as 4 days post-virus installation (dpi). It is remarkable that (-)-carbodine is effective when initiated after the establishment of brain infection.
PMCID: PMC2612642  PMID: 18675850
Venezuelan equine encephalitis; virus; carbodine; TC-83; C3H/HeN mouse; antiviral

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