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1.  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
2.  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
3.  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
4.  Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Viruses (VEEV) in Argentina: Serological Evidence of Human Infection 
Venezuelan equine encephalitis viruses (VEEV) are responsible for human diseases in the Americas, producing severe or mild illness with symptoms indistinguishable from dengue and other arboviral diseases. For this reason, many cases remain without certain diagnosis. Seroprevalence studies for VEEV subtypes IAB, ID, IF (Mosso das Pedras virus; MDPV), IV (Pixuna virus; PIXV) and VI (Rio Negro virus; RNV) were conducted in persons from Northern provinces of Argentina: Salta, Chaco and Corrientes, using plaque reduction neutralization test (PRNT). RNV was detected in all studied provinces. Chaco presented the highest prevalence of this virus (14.1%). Antibodies against VEEV IAB and -for the first time- against MDPV and PIXV were also detected in Chaco province. In Corrientes, seroprevalence against RNV was 1.3% in the pediatric population, indicating recent infections. In Salta, this was the first investigation of VEEV members, and antibodies against RNV and PIXV were detected. These results provide evidence of circulation of many VEE viruses in Northern Argentina, showing that surveillance of these infectious agents should be intensified.
Author Summary
Venezuelan equine encephalitis viruses (VEEV) are responsible for human diseases in the Americas. They produce severe or mild illnesses with symptoms indistinguishable from dengue and other arboviral diseases; for this reason, many cases remain undiagnosed. We detected neutralizing antibodies (NTAbs) against VEEV IAB, VEEV ID, MDPV (VEEV subtype IF), PIXV (VEEV subtype IV) and RNV (VEEV subtype VI) in human serum samples of Northern provinces of Argentina. Chaco province showed presence of NTAbs against VEEV IAB, MDPV, PIXV and RNV. In Corrientes province, we detected NTAbs against RNV in a pediatric population. NTAbs against PIXV and RNV were also detected in Salta province. These findings demonstrated the circulation of many VEEV strains in Northern Argentina and underscore the need for surveillance of dengue like illness in this region.
PMCID: PMC3861189  PMID: 24349588
5.  Immunity to Aerosol Challenge in Guinea Pigs Immunized with Gamma-Irradiated Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Vaccines 
Applied Microbiology  1971;21(4):688-692.
In a previous report, it was shown that nonviable Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE) vaccines prepared by exposure of virus suspensions produced in WI-38 cells to ionizing radiations were highly effective in protecting guinea pigs subjected to intraperitoneal (ip) challenge with VEE virus. To characterize further the efficacy of irradiated vaccines, guinea pigs were immunized with three lots of vaccine inactivated by exposure to 8 × 106 r of gamma rays and then were challenged via the respiratory route with aerosols of VEE virus. Animals that received a series of three ip inoculations of vaccine at 1-week intervals showed high levels of resistance to aerosol challenge. The 50% effective dose values of vaccines ranged from <0.0016 to 0.0051 ml for respiratory challenge and from <0.00074 to 0.0011 ml for intraperitoneal challenge. Serological studies showed that antigenicity of the irradiated vaccines was excellent. Moderate to high levels of serum-neutralizing and hemagglutination-inhibiting antibodies were demonstrated in the majority of animals vaccinated with undiluted or 10−1 dilutions of the vaccines. However, serum-neutralizing and hemagglutination-inhibiting antibody levels were not always indicative of the level of immunity, because some animals in which significant antibody could not be demonstrated were able to survive challenge with VEE virus.
PMCID: PMC377257  PMID: 5575570
6.  Antibody to the E3 Glycoprotein Protects Mice against Lethal Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Virus Infection▿  
Journal of Virology  2010;84(24):12683-12690.
Six monoclonal antibodies were isolated that exhibited specificity for a furin cleavage site deletion mutant (V3526) of Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV). These antibodies comprise a single competition group and bound the E3 glycoprotein of VEEV subtype I viruses but failed to bind the E3 glycoprotein of other alphaviruses. These antibodies neutralized V3526 virus infectivity but did not neutralize the parental strain of Trinidad donkey (TrD) VEEV. However, the E3-specific antibodies did inhibit the production of virus from VEEV TrD-infected cells. In addition, passive immunization of mice demonstrated that antibody to the E3 glycoprotein provided protection against lethal VEEV TrD challenge. This is the first recognition of a protective epitope in the E3 glycoprotein. Furthermore, these results indicate that E3 plays a critical role late in the morphogenesis of progeny virus after E3 appears on the surfaces of infected cells.
PMCID: PMC3004303  PMID: 20926570
7.  The Use of Chimeric Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Viruses as an Approach for the Molecular Identification of Natural Virulence Determinants 
Journal of Virology  2000;74(9):4258-4263.
Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE) virus antigenic subtypes and varieties are considered either epidemic/epizootic or enzootic. In addition to epidemiological differences between the epidemic and enzootic viruses, several in vitro and in vivo laboratory markers distinguishing the viruses have been identified, including differential plaque size, sensitivity to interferon (IFN), and virulence for guinea pigs. These observations have been shown to be useful predictors of natural, equine virulence and epizootic potential. Chimeric viruses containing variety IAB (epizootic) nonstructural genes with variety IE (enzootic) structural genes (VE/IAB-IE) or IE nonstructural genes and IAB structural genes (IE/IAB) were constructed to systematically analyze and map viral phenotype and virulence determinants. Plaque size analysis showed that both chimeric viruses produced a mean plaque diameter that was intermediate between those of the parental strains. Additionally, both chimeric viruses showed intermediate levels of virus replication and virulence for guinea pigs compared to the parental strains. However, IE/IAB produced a slightly higher viremia and an average survival time 2 days shorter than the VE/IAB-IE virus. Finally, IFN sensitivity assays revealed that only one chimera, VE/IAB-IE, was intermediate between the two parental types. The second chimera, containing the IE nonstructural genes, was at least five times more sensitive to IFN than the IE parental virus and greater than 50 times more sensitive than the IAB parent. These results implicate viral components in both the structural and nonstructural portions of the genome in contributing to the epizootic phenotype and indicate the potential for epidemic emergence from the IE enzootic VEE viruses.
PMCID: PMC111942  PMID: 10756040
8.  Protective efficacies of live attenuated and formaldehyde-inactivated Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus vaccines against aerosol challenge in hamsters. 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  1984;19(3):429-431.
Although two investigational vaccines are used to immunize humans against Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis virus, neither had previously been tested for protective efficacy against aerosol exposure. Live attenuated vaccine (TC-83) protected all hamsters challenged by either aerosol or subcutaneous routes with 4.7 to 5.2 log10 PFU of virulent Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis virus. Formaldehyde-inactivated vaccine (C-84) failed to protect against aerosol challenge but did protect against subcutaneous challenge. Protection elicited by TC-83 vaccine did not depend solely on serum-neutralizing antibody. These studies suggest that TC-83 vaccine is preferable to C-84 vaccine for protecting laboratory workers at risk to aerosol exposure.
PMCID: PMC271080  PMID: 6715512
9.  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
10.  Second Generation Inactivated Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus Vaccine Candidates Protect Mice against a Lethal Aerosol Challenge 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(8):e104708.
Currently, there are no FDA-licensed vaccines or therapeutics for eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEV) for human use. We recently developed several methods to inactivate CVEV1219, a chimeric live-attenuated eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEV). Dosage and schedule studies were conducted to evaluate the immunogenicity and protective efficacy of three potential second-generation inactivated EEEV (iEEEV) vaccine candidates in mice: formalin-inactivated CVEV1219 (fCVEV1219), INA-inactivated CVEV1219 (iCVEV1219) and gamma-irradiated CVEV1219 (gCVEV1219). Both fCVEV1219 and gCVEV1219 provided partial to complete protection against an aerosol challenge when administered by different routes and schedules at various doses, while iCVEV1219 was unable to provide substantial protection against an aerosol challenge by any route, dose, or schedule tested. When evaluating antibody responses, neutralizing antibody, not virus specific IgG or IgA, was the best correlate of protection. The results of these studies suggest that both fCVEV1219 and gCVEV1219 should be evaluated further and considered for advancement as potential second-generation inactivated vaccine candidates for EEEV.
PMCID: PMC4130539  PMID: 25116127
11.  Vaccine Efficacy in Senescent Mice Challenged with Recombinant SARS-CoV Bearing Epidemic and Zoonotic Spike Variants  
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(12):e525.
In 2003, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) was identified as the etiological agent of severe acute respiratory syndrome, a disease characterized by severe pneumonia that sometimes results in death. SARS-CoV is a zoonotic virus that crossed the species barrier, most likely originating from bats or from other species including civets, raccoon dogs, domestic cats, swine, and rodents. A SARS-CoV vaccine should confer long-term protection, especially in vulnerable senescent populations, against both the 2003 epidemic strains and zoonotic strains that may yet emerge from animal reservoirs. We report the comprehensive investigation of SARS vaccine efficacy in young and senescent mice following homologous and heterologous challenge.
Methods and Findings
Using Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus replicon particles (VRP) expressing the 2003 epidemic Urbani SARS-CoV strain spike (S) glycoprotein (VRP-S) or the nucleocapsid (N) protein from the same strain (VRP-N), we demonstrate that VRP-S, but not VRP-N vaccines provide complete short- and long-term protection against homologous strain challenge in young and senescent mice. To test VRP vaccine efficacy against a heterologous SARS-CoV, we used phylogenetic analyses, synthetic biology, and reverse genetics to construct a chimeric virus (icGDO3-S) encoding a synthetic S glycoprotein gene of the most genetically divergent human strain, GDO3, which clusters among the zoonotic SARS-CoV. icGD03-S replicated efficiently in human airway epithelial cells and in the lungs of young and senescent mice, and was highly resistant to neutralization with antisera directed against the Urbani strain. Although VRP-S vaccines provided complete short-term protection against heterologous icGD03-S challenge in young mice, only limited protection was seen in vaccinated senescent animals. VRP-N vaccines not only failed to protect from homologous or heterologous challenge, but resulted in enhanced immunopathology with eosinophilic infiltrates within the lungs of SARS-CoV–challenged mice. VRP-N–induced pathology presented at day 4, peaked around day 7, and persisted through day 14, and was likely mediated by cellular immune responses.
This study identifies gaps and challenges in vaccine design for controlling future SARS-CoV zoonosis, especially in vulnerable elderly populations. The availability of a SARS-CoV virus bearing heterologous S glycoproteins provides a robust challenge inoculum for evaluating vaccine efficacy against zoonotic strains, the most likely source of future outbreaks.
Experiments in mice suggest challenges in vaccine design for controlling future SARS-CoV zoonosis, especially in vulnerable elderly populations.
Editors' Summary
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a flu-like illness and was first recognized in China in 2002, after which the disease rapidly spread around the world. SARS was associated with high death rates, much higher than those for flu. Around 10% of people recognized as being infected with SARS died, and the death rate approached 50% among elderly people. The virus causing SARS was identified as a member of the coronavirus family; it is generally thought that this virus “jumped” to humans from bats, which harbor related viruses. Although SARS was declared eradicated by the World Health Organization in May 2005, there is still the possibility that similar viruses will again cross the species barrier and infect humans, with potentially serious consequences. As a result, many groups are working to develop vaccines that will protect against SARS infection.
Why Was This Study Done?
A SARS vaccine should be effective in people of all ages, including the elderly who are more likely to get seriously ill or die if they become infected. In addition, potential vaccines should protect against different variants of the virus, because there are different types of the virus that could potentially cross the species barrier from animals to humans. Of the different proteins that make up the SARS coronavirus, the spike glycoprotein is thought to elicit an immune response in humans that can protect against future infection. The researchers therefore examined vaccine candidates based on this particular protein (termed SARS-CoV S), as well as a second one called SARS-CoV N, in mice. Specifically, they tested whether the vaccines would protect against SARS infection in both young and older mice, and whether they would protect against infection by different strains of the SARS virus.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers created vaccines based on SARS-CoV S and SARS-CoV N by taking the genes coding for those proteins and inserting them into another type of virus particle that acted as a delivery vehicle. They injected mice with these vaccines and then tested whether the mice generated an immune response against the specific SARS proteins, which they did. The next step was to work out whether mice injected with the vaccines would be protected against later infection with SARS-CoV. The researchers found that mice injected with vaccine based on SARS-CoV S were protected against later infection with a standard SARS-CoV strain, both in the short term (eight weeks after vaccination) and the long term (54 weeks after vaccination). However, the vaccine based on SARS-CoV N did not seem to result in protection, and, worryingly, caused pathological changes in the lungs of mice following virus challenge. To find out if their candidate vaccines would protect against different strains of SARS, the researchers made a synthetic test virus that contained a mixture of genetic material from different natural variants of the virus. This test virus was used to “challenge” mice that had been immunized with the two different vaccines. The researchers found that the vaccine based on SARS-CoV S protected against infection by the test virus when mice were vaccinated young, but it failed to efficiently protect when administered to older mice.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The findings confirm others suggesting that vaccines based on the SARS-CoV S protein are more effective than those based on SARS-CoV N. They also suggest that the former can provide long-term protection in animals vaccinated young against closely related viruses. However, protection against more distantly related viruses remains a challenge, especially when vaccinating older animals. The differences seen between young and older mice suggest that older mice might provide a useful model for animal testing of candidate vaccines for diseases like SARS, flu, and West Nile virus that pose a particular threat to elderly people. Overall, these results provide useful lessons toward future SARS vaccine development in animals. The synthetic virus strain generated here, and others like it, are likely to be useful tools for such future studies.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
• The World Health Organization provides guidance, archives, and other information resources on SARS
• Information from the US Centers for Disease Control on SARS
• Wikipedia (an internet encyclopedia anyone can edit) has an entry on SARS
• Collected resources from MedLinePlus about SARS
PMCID: PMC1716185  PMID: 17194199
12.  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
13.  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
14.  Doxorubicin and paclitaxel enhance the antitumor efficacy of vaccines directed against HER 2/neu in a murine mammary carcinoma model 
Breast Cancer Research  2004;6(4):R275-R283.
The purpose of the present study was to determine whether cytotoxic chemotherapeutic agents administered prior to immunotherapy with gene vaccines could augment the efficacy of the vaccines.
Mice were injected in the mammary fat pad with an aggressive breast tumor cell line that expresses HER2/neu. The mice were treated 3 days later with a noncurative dose of either doxorubicin or paclitaxel, and the following day with a gene vaccine to HER2/neu. Two more doses of vaccine were given 14 days apart. Two types of gene vaccines were tested: a plasmid vaccine encoding a self-replicating RNA (replicon) of Sindbis virus (SINCP), in which the viral structural proteins were replaced by the gene for neu; and a viral replicon particle derived from an attenuated strain of Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus, containing a replicon RNA in which the Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus structural proteins were replaced by the gene for neu.
Neither vaccination alone nor chemotherapy alone significantly reduced the growth of the mammary carcinoma. In contrast, chemotherapy followed by vaccination reduced tumor growth by a small, but significant amount. Antigen-specific CD8+ T lymphocytes were induced by the combined treatment, indicating that the control of tumor growth was most probably due to an immunological mechanism. The results demonstrated that doxorubicin and paclitaxel, commonly used chemotherapeutic agents for the treatment of breast cancer, when used at immunomodulating doses augmented the antitumor efficacy of gene vaccines directed against HER2/neu.
The combination of chemotherapeutic agents plus vaccine immunotherapy may induce a tumor-specific immune response that could be beneficial for the adjuvant treatment of patients with minimal residual disease. The regimen warrants further evaluation in a clinical setting.
PMCID: PMC468620  PMID: 15217493
adjuvant treatment; breast cancer; chemotherapy; gene vaccines; immunotherapy
15.  Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Virus Replicon Particle Vaccine Protects Nonhuman Primates from Intramuscular and Aerosol Challenge with Ebolavirus 
Journal of Virology  2013;87(9):4952-4964.
There are no vaccines or therapeutics currently approved for the prevention or treatment of ebolavirus infection. Previously, a replicon vaccine based on Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) demonstrated protective efficacy against Marburg virus in nonhuman primates. Here, we report the protective efficacy of Sudan virus (SUDV)- and Ebola virus (EBOV)-specific VEEV replicon particle (VRP) vaccines in nonhuman primates. VRP vaccines were developed to express the glycoprotein (GP) of either SUDV or EBOV. A single intramuscular vaccination of cynomolgus macaques with VRP expressing SUDV GP provided complete protection against intramuscular challenge with SUDV. Vaccination against SUDV and subsequent survival of SUDV challenge did not fully protect cynomolgus macaques against intramuscular EBOV back-challenge. However, a single simultaneous intramuscular vaccination with VRP expressing SUDV GP combined with VRP expressing EBOV GP did provide complete protection against intramuscular challenge with either SUDV or EBOV in cynomolgus macaques. Finally, intramuscular vaccination with VRP expressing SUDV GP completely protected cynomolgus macaques when challenged with aerosolized SUDV, although complete protection against aerosol challenge required two vaccinations with this vaccine.
PMCID: PMC3624300  PMID: 23408633
16.  Telemetric analysis to detect febrile responses in mice following vaccination with a live-attenuated virus vaccine 
Vaccine  2009;27(49):6814-6823.
Nonhuman primates (NHP) are considered to be the most appropriate model for predicting how humans will respond to many infectious diseases. Due to ethical and monetary concerns associated with the use of NHP, rodent models that are as predictive of responses likely to be seen in human vaccine recipients are warranted. Using implanted telemetry devices, body temperature and activity were monitored in inbred and outbred mouse strains following administration of the live-attenuated vaccine for Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV), V3526. Following analysis of individual mouse data, only outbred mouse strains showed changes in diurnal temperature and activity profiles following vaccination. Similar changes were observed following VEEV challenge of vaccinated outbred mice. From these studies, we conclude, outbred mouse strains implanted with telemeters are a sensitive model for predicting responses in humans following vaccination.
PMCID: PMC2783281  PMID: 19761841
vaccine; mouse; telemetry
17.  Vector Infection Determinants of Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Virus Reside within the E2 Envelope Glycoprotein 
Journal of Virology  2002;76(12):6387-6392.
Epizootic subtype IAB and IC Venezuelan equine encephalitis viruses (VEEV) readily infect the epizootic mosquito vector Aedes taeniorhynchus. The inability of enzootic subtype IE viruses to infect this mosquito species provides a model system for the identification of natural viral determinants of vector infectivity. To map mosquito infection determinants, reciprocal chimeric viruses generated from epizootic subtype IAB and enzootic IE VEEV were tested for mosquito infectivity. Chimeras containing the IAB epizootic structural gene region and, more specifically, the IAB PE2 envelope glycoprotein E2 precursor gene demonstrated an efficient infection phenotype. Introduction of the PE2 gene from an enzootic subtype ID virus into an epizootic IAB or IC genetic backbone resulted in lower infection rates than those of the epizootic parent. The finding that the E2 envelope glycoprotein, the site of epitopes that define the enzootic and epizootic subtypes, also encodes mosquito infection determinants suggests that selection for efficient infection of epizootic mosquito vectors may mediate VEE emergence.
PMCID: PMC136209  PMID: 12021373
18.  Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Virus Replicon Particles Encoding Respiratory Syncytial Virus Surface Glycoproteins Induce Protective Mucosal Responses in Mice and Cotton Rats▿  
Journal of Virology  2007;81(24):13710-13722.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is an important viral pathogen that causes severe lower respiratory tract infection in infants, the elderly, and immunocompromised individuals. There are no licensed RSV vaccines to date. To prevent RSV infection, immune responses in both the upper and lower respiratory tracts are required. Previously, immunization with Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus replicon particles (VRPs) demonstrated effectiveness in inducing mucosal protection against various pathogens. In this study, we developed VRPs encoding RSV fusion (F) or attachment (G) glycoproteins and evaluated the immunogenicity and efficacy of these vaccine candidates in mice and cotton rats. VRPs, when administered intranasally, induced surface glycoprotein-specific virus neutralizing antibodies in serum and immunoglobulin A (IgA) antibodies in secretions at the respiratory mucosa. In addition, fusion protein-encoding VRPs induced gamma interferon (IFN-γ)-secreting T cells in the lungs and spleen, as measured by reaction with an H-2Kd-restricted CD8+ T-cell epitope. In animals vaccinated with F protein VRPs, challenge virus replication was reduced below the level of detection in both the upper and lower respiratory tracts following intranasal RSV challenge, while in those vaccinated with G protein VRPs, challenge virus was detected in the upper but not the lower respiratory tract. Close examination of histopathology of the lungs of vaccinated animals following RSV challenge revealed no enhanced inflammation. Immunization with VRPs induced balanced Th1/Th2 immune responses, as measured by the cytokine profile in the lungs and antibody isotype of the humoral immune response. These results represent an important first step toward the use of VRPs encoding RSV proteins as a prophylactic vaccine for RSV.
PMCID: PMC2168850  PMID: 17928349
19.  Potential Sources of the 1995 Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Subtype IC Epidemic 
Journal of Virology  2001;75(13):5823-5832.
Venezuelan equine encephalitis viruses (VEEV) belonging to subtype IC have caused three (1962–1964, 1992–1993 and 1995) major equine epizootics and epidemics. Previous sequence analyses of a portion of the envelope glycoprotein gene demonstrated a high degree of conservation among isolates from the 1962–1964 and the 1995 outbreaks, as well as a 1983 interepizootic mosquito isolate from Panaquire, Venezuela. However, unlike subtype IAB VEEV that were used to prepare inactivated vaccines that probably initiated several outbreaks, subtype IC viruses have not been used for vaccine production and their conservation cannot be explained in this way. To characterize further subtype IC VEEV conservation and to evaluate potential sources of the 1995 outbreak, we sequenced the complete genomes of three isolates from the 1962–1964 outbreak, the 1983 Panaquire interepizootic isolate, and two isolates from 1995. The sequence of the Panaquire isolate, and that of virus isolated from a mouse brain antigen prepared from subtype IC strain P676 and used in the same laboratory, suggested that the Panaquire isolate represents a laboratory contaminant. Some authentic epizootic IC strains isolated 32 years apart showed a greater degree of sequence identity than did isolates from the same (1962–1964 or 1995) outbreak. If these viruses were circulating and replicating between 1964 and 1995, their rate of sequence evolution was at least 10-fold lower than that estimated during outbreaks or that of closely related enzootic VEEV strains that circulate continuously. Current understanding of alphavirus evolution is inconsistent with this conservation. This subtype IC VEEV conservation, combined with phylogenetic relationships, suggests the possibility that the 1995 outbreak was initiated by a laboratory strain.
PMCID: PMC114297  PMID: 11390583
20.  The First Human Epitope Map of the Alphaviral E1 and E2 Proteins Reveals a New E2 Epitope with Significant Virus Neutralizing Activity 
Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) is responsible for VEE epidemics that occur in South and Central America and the U.S. The VEEV envelope contains two glycoproteins E1 (mediates cell membrane fusion) and E2 (binds receptor and elicits virus neutralizing antibodies). Previously we constructed E1 and E2 epitope maps using murine monoclonal antibodies (mMAbs). Six E2 epitopes (E2c,d,e,f,g,h) bound VEEV-neutralizing antibody and mapped to amino acids (aa) 182–207. Nothing is known about the human antibody repertoire to VEEV or epitopes that engage human virus-neutralizing antibodies. There is no specific treatment for VEE; however virus-neutralizing mMAbs are potent protective and therapeutic agents for mice challenged with VEEV by either peripheral or aerosol routes. Therefore, fully human MAbs (hMAbs) with virus-neutralizing activity should be useful for prevention or clinical treatment of human VEE.
We used phage-display to isolate VEEV-specific hFabs from human bone marrow donors. These hFabs were characterized by sequencing, specificity testing, VEEV subtype cross-reactivity using indirect ELISA, and in vitro virus neutralization capacity. One E2-specific neutralizing hFAb, F5n, was converted into IgG, and its binding site was identified using competitive ELISA with mMAbs and by preparing and sequencing antibody neutralization-escape variants.
Using 11 VEEV-reactive hFabs we constructed the first human epitope map for the alphaviral surface proteins E1 and E2. We identified an important neutralization-associated epitope unique to the human immune response, E2 aa115–119. Using a 9 Å resolution cryo-electron microscopy map of the Sindbis virus E2 protein, we showed the probable surface location of this human VEEV epitope.
The VEEV-neutralizing capacity of the hMAb F5 nIgG is similar to that exhibited by the humanized mMAb Hy4 IgG. The Hy4 IgG has been shown to limit VEEV infection in mice both prophylactically and therapeutically. Administration of a cocktail of F5n and Hy4 IgGs, which bind to different E2 epitopes, could provide enhanced prophylaxis or immunotherapy for VEEV, while reducing the possibility of generating possibly harmful virus neutralization-escape variants in vivo.
Author Summary
Although the murine immune response to Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) is well-characterized, little is known about the human antibody response to VEEV. In this study we used phage display technology to isolate a panel of 11 VEEV-specfic Fabs from two human donors. Seven E2-specific and four E1-specific Fabs were identified and mapped to five E2 epitopes and three E1 epitopes. Two neutralizing Fabs were isolated, E2-specific F5 and E1-specific L1A7, although the neutralizing capacity of L1A7 was 300-fold lower than F5. F5 Fab was expressed as a complete IgG1 molecule, F5 native (n) IgG. Neutralization-escape VEEV variants for F5 nIgG were isolated and their structural genes were sequenced to determine the theoretical binding site of F5. Based on this sequence analysis as well as the ability of F5 to neutralize four neutralization-escape variants of anti-VEEV murine monoclonal antibodies (mapped to E2 amino acids 182–207), a unique neutralization domain on E2 was identified and mapped to E2 amino acids 115–119.
PMCID: PMC2903468  PMID: 20644615
21.  Genetic and Phenotypic Changes Accompanying the Emergence of Epizootic Subtype IC Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Viruses from an Enzootic Subtype ID Progenitor 
Journal of Virology  1999;73(5):4266-4271.
Recent studies have indicated that epizootic Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE) viruses can evolve from enzootic, subtype ID strains that circulate continuously in lowland tropical forests (A. M. Powers, M. S. Oberste, A. C. Brault, R. Rico-Hesse, S. M. Schmura, J. F. Smith, W. Kang, W. P. Sweeney, and S. C. Weaver, J. Virol. 71:6697–6705, 1997). To identify mutations associated with the phenotypic changes leading to epizootics, we sequenced the entire genomes of two subtype IC epizootic VEE virus strains isolated during a 1992–1993 Venezuelan outbreak and four sympatric, subtype ID enzootic strains closely related to the predicted epizootic progenitor. Analysis by maximum-parsimony phylogenetic methods revealed 25 nucleotide differences which were predicted to have accompanied the 1992 epizootic emergence; 7 of these encoded amino acid changes in the nsP1, nsP3, capsid, and E2 envelope glycoprotein, and 2 were mutations in the 3′ untranslated genome region. Comparisons with the genomic sequences of IAB and other IC epizootic VEE virus strains revealed that only one of the seven amino acid changes associated with the 1992 emergence, a threonine-to-methionine change at position 360 of the nsP3 protein, accompanied another VEE virus emergence event. Two changes in the E2 envelope glycoprotein region believed to include the major antigenic determinants, both involving replacement of uncharged residues with arginine, are also candidates for epizootic determinants.
PMCID: PMC104206  PMID: 10196323
22.  Liposome-Antigen-Nucleic Acid Complexes Protect Mice from Lethal Challenge with Western and Eastern Equine Encephalitis Viruses 
Journal of Virology  2014;88(3):1771-1780.
Alphaviruses are mosquito-borne viruses that cause significant disease in animals and humans. Western equine encephalitis virus (WEEV) and eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEV), two New World alphaviruses, can cause fatal encephalitis, and EEEV is a select agent of concern in biodefense. However, we have no antiviral therapies against alphaviral disease, and current vaccine strategies target only a single alphavirus species. In an effort to develop new tools for a broader response to outbreaks, we designed and tested a novel alphavirus vaccine comprised of cationic lipid nucleic acid complexes (CLNCs) and the ectodomain of WEEV E1 protein (E1ecto). Interestingly, we found that the CLNC component, alone, had therapeutic efficacy, as it increased survival of CD-1 mice following lethal WEEV infection. Immunization with the CLNC-WEEV E1ecto mixture (lipid-antigen-nucleic acid complexes [LANACs]) using a prime-boost regimen provided 100% protection in mice challenged with WEEV subcutaneously, intranasally, or via mosquito. Mice immunized with LANACs mounted a strong humoral immune response but did not produce neutralizing antibodies. Passive transfer of serum from LANAC E1ecto-immunized mice to nonimmune CD-1 mice conferred protection against WEEV challenge, indicating that antibody is sufficient for protection. In addition, the LANAC E1ecto immunization protocol significantly increased survival of mice following intranasal or subcutaneous challenge with EEEV. In summary, our LANAC formulation has therapeutic potential and is an effective vaccine strategy that offers protection against two distinct species of alphavirus irrespective of the route of infection. We discuss plausible mechanisms as well the potential utility of our LANAC formulation as a pan-alphavirus vaccine.
PMCID: PMC3911585  PMID: 24257615
23.  Gamma-Irradiated Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Vaccines 
Applied Microbiology  1970;19(5):763-767.
The efficacy of Formalin-inactivated Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE) vaccine has been reported to be low for man. Although a live VEE vaccine has been shown to be highly effective for the protection of laboratory workers, local and systemic reactions have occurred in approximately 20% of inoculated individuals. Therefore, studies were initiated in an attempt to produce an inactivated vaccine of high potency with low toxicity. Inactivated VEE vaccines were prepared by exposing virus suspensions to 8 × 106 or 10 × 106 r of gamma radiation. Irradiated VEE vaccines prepared from virus suspensions produced in Maitland-type chick embryo (MTCE) cell cultures and in monolayer cultures of human diploid strain WI-38 cells were highly immunogenic for mice and guinea pigs. Guinea pigs vaccinated with a series of three inoculations of vaccine (MTCE) survived challenge with at least 108·4 mouse intracerebral 50% lethal doses of VEE virus. Irradiated vaccines induced high levels of serum-neutralizing and hemagglutinin-inhibiting antibodies in guinea pigs and rabbits. These findings suggest that ionizing radiation may be effective in the preparation of an inactivated VEE vaccine.
PMCID: PMC376784  PMID: 5463575
24.  Laboratory studies of Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus in equines, Texas, 1971. 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  1975;2(3):198-205.
During the summer and fall of 1971, epizootic and epidemic Venezuelan equine encephalitis was detected in Texas. Isolates of epizootic (IB) and vaccine (TC-83) strains were distinguished by virulence of the former for guinea pigs. Vaccine virus was isolated from 1 to 14 days after vaccination and neutralization tests demonstrated the appearance of antibody about a week after vaccination. Viremia titers of subtype IB in horses ranged from 2.2 to 8.3 log10 suckling mouse intracranial 50% lethal doses per ml. Of 101 equines from which Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (IB or TC-83) strains were isolated, 87 had no neutralizing antibody against Venezuelan, eastern or western equine encephalitis viruses.
PMCID: PMC274171  PMID: 1176627
25.  A Chimeric Alphavirus Replicon Particle Vaccine Expressing the Hemagglutinin and Fusion Proteins Protects Juvenile and Infant Rhesus Macaques from Measles▿  
Journal of Virology  2010;84(8):3798-3807.
Measles remains a major cause of child mortality, in part due to an inability to vaccinate young infants with the current live attenuated virus vaccine (LAV). To explore new approaches to infant vaccination, chimeric Venezuelan equine encephalitis/Sindbis virus (VEE/SIN) replicon particles were used to express the hemagglutinin (H) and fusion (F) proteins of measles virus (MV). Juvenile rhesus macaques vaccinated intradermally with a single dose of VEE/SIN expressing H or H and F proteins (VEE/SIN-H or VEE/SIN-H+F, respectively) developed high titers of MV-specific neutralizing antibody and gamma-interferon (IFN-γ)-producing T cells. Infant macaques vaccinated with two doses of VEE/SIN-H+F also developed neutralizing antibody and IFN-γ-producing T cells. Control animals were vaccinated with LAV or with a formalin-inactivated measles vaccine (FIMV). Neutralizing antibody remained above the protective level for more than 1 year after vaccination with VEE/SIN-H, VEE/SIN-H+F, or LAV. When challenged with wild-type MV 12 to 17 months after vaccination, all vaccinated juvenile and infant monkeys vaccinated with VEE/SIN-H, VEE/SIN-H+F, and LAV were protected from rash and viremia, while FIMV-vaccinated monkeys were not. Antibody was boosted by challenge in all groups. T-cell responses to challenge were biphasic, with peaks at 7 to 25 days and at 90 to 110 days in all groups, except for the LAV group. Recrudescent T-cell activity coincided with the presence of MV RNA in peripheral blood mononuclear cells. We conclude that VEE/SIN expressing H or H and F induces durable immune responses that protect from measles and offers a promising new approach for measles vaccination. The viral and immunological factors associated with long-term control of MV replication require further investigation.
PMCID: PMC2849488  PMID: 20130066

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