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1.  The Inability of Wild-Type Rabies Virus To Activate Dendritic Cells Is Dependent on the Glycoprotein and Correlates with Its Low Level of the De Novo-Synthesized Leader RNA 
Journal of Virology  2014;89(4):2157-2169.
Dendritic cells (DCs) are the most efficient antigen-presenting cells, playing a key role in the adaptive immune responses to viral infections. Our studies demonstrate that wild-type (wt) rabies virus (RABV) does not activate DCs. Adoptive transfer of DCs primed with wt RABV did not activate DCs, stimulate virus neutralizing antibodies (VNA), or protect recipients against challenge. However, adoptive transfer of DCs primed with laboratory-attenuated RABV resulted in DC activation, production of VNA, and protection against challenge. In vitro studies with recombinant RABV (laboratory-attenuated RABV expressing the glycoprotein or the phosphoprotein from wt RABV) demonstrate that DC activation is dependent on the glycoprotein and involves the IPS-1 pathway. Furthermore, binding to and entry into DCs by wt RABV is severely blocked, and the copy number of de novo-synthesized leader RNA was two logs lower in DCs infected with the wt than in DCs treated with laboratory-attenuated RABV. However, transient transfection of DCs with synthesized leader RNA from either wt or attenuated RABV is capable of activating DCs in a dose-dependent manner. Thus, the inability of wt RABV to activate DCs correlates with its low level of the de novo-synthesized leader RNA.
IMPORTANCE Rabies remains a public health threat, with more than 55,000 fatalities each year around the world. Since DCs play a key role in the adaptive immune responses to viral infections, we investigated the ability of rabies virus (RABV) to activate DCs. It was found that the adoptive transfer of DCs primed with wt RABV did not activate DCs, stimulate VNA, or protect mice against lethal challenge. However, laboratory-attenuated RABV mediates the activation of DCs via the IPS-1 pathway and is glycoprotein dependent. We further show that wt RABV evades DC-mediated immune activation by inefficient binding/entry into DCs and as a result of a reduced level of de novo-synthesized leader RNA. These findings may have important implications in the development of efficient rabies vaccines.
PMCID: PMC4338874  PMID: 25473057
2.  ICAM-1-Based Rabies Virus Vaccine Shows Increased Infection and Activation of Primary Murine B Cells In Vitro and Enhanced Antibody Titers In-Vivo 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e87098.
We have previously shown that live-attenuated rabies virus (RABV)-based vaccines infect and directly activate murine and human primary B cells in-vitro, which we propose can be exploited to help develop a single-dose RABV-based vaccine. Here we report on a novel approach to utilize the binding of Intracellular Adhesion Molecule-1 (ICAM-1) to its binding partner, Lymphocyte Function-associated Antigen-1 (LFA-1), on B cells to enhance B cell activation and RABV-specific antibody responses. We used a reverse genetics approach to clone, recover, and characterize a live-attenuated recombinant RABV-based vaccine expressing the murine Icam1 gene (rRABV-mICAM-1). We show that the murine ICAM-1 gene product is incorporated into virus particles, potentially exposing ICAM-1 to extracellular binding partners. While rRABV-mICAM-1 showed 10-100-fold decrease in viral titers on baby hamster kidney cells compared to the parental virus (rRABV), rRABV-mICAM-1 infected and activated primary murine B cells in-vitro more efficiently than rRABV, as indicated by significant upregulation of CD69, CD40, and MHCII on the surface of infected B cells. ICAM-1 expression on the virus surface was responsible for enhanced B cell infection since pre-treating rRABV-mICAM-1 with a neutralizing anti-ICAM-1 antibody reduced B cell infection to levels observed with rRABV alone. Furthermore, 100-fold less rRABV-mICAM-1 was needed to induce antibody titers in immunized mice equivalent to antibody titers observed in rRABV-immunized mice. Of note, only 103 focus forming units (ffu)/mouse of rRABV-mICAM-1 was needed to induce significant anti-RABV antibody titers as early as five days post-immunization. As both speed and potency of antibody responses are important in controlling human RABV infection in a post-exposure setting, these data show that expression of Icam1 from the RABV genome, which is then incorporated into the virus particle, is a promising strategy for the development of a single-dose RABV vaccine that requires only a minimum of virus.
PMCID: PMC3906113  PMID: 24489846
3.  Rhabdovirus-Based Vaccine Platforms against Henipaviruses 
Journal of Virology  2014;89(1):144-154.
The emerging zoonotic pathogens Hendra virus (HeV) and Nipah virus (NiV) are in the genus Henipavirus in the family Paramyxoviridae. HeV and NiV infections can be highly fatal to humans and livestock. The goal of this study was to develop candidate vaccines against henipaviruses utilizing two well-established rhabdoviral vaccine vector platforms, recombinant rabies virus (RABV) and recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), expressing either the codon-optimized or the wild-type (wt) HeV glycoprotein (G) gene. The RABV vector expressing the codon-optimized HeV G showed a 2- to 3-fold increase in incorporation compared to the RABV vector expressing wt HeV G. There was no significant difference in HeV G incorporation in the VSV vectors expressing either wt or codon-optimized HeV G. Mice inoculated intranasally with any of these live recombinant viruses showed no signs of disease, including weight loss, indicating that HeV G expression and incorporation did not increase the neurotropism of the vaccine vectors. To test the immunogenicity of the vaccine candidates, we immunized mice intramuscularly with either one dose of the live vaccines or 3 doses of 10 μg chemically inactivated viral particles. Increased codon-optimized HeV G incorporation into RABV virions resulted in higher antibody titers against HeV G compared to inactivated RABV virions expressing wt HeV G. The live VSV vectors induced more HeV G-specific antibodies as well as higher levels of HeV neutralizing antibodies than the RABV vectors. In the case of killed particles, HeV neutralizing serum titers were very similar between the two platforms. These results indicated that killed RABV with codon-optimized HeV G should be the vector of choice as a dual vaccine in areas where rabies is endemic.
IMPORTANCE Scientists have been tracking two new viruses carried by the Pteropid fruit bats: Hendra virus (HeV) and Nipah virus (NiV). Both viruses can be fatal to humans and also pose a serious risk to domestic animals. A recent escalation in the frequency of outbreaks has increased the need for a vaccine that prevents HeV and NiV infections. In this study, we performed an extensive comparison of live and killed particles of two recombinant rhabdoviral vectors, rabies virus and vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), expressing wild-type or codon-optimized HeV glycoprotein, with the goal of developing a candidate vaccine against HeV. Based on our data from the presented mouse immunogenicity studies, we conclude that a killed RABV vaccine would be highly effective against HeV infections and would make an excellent vaccine candidate in areas where both RABV and henipaviruses pose a threat to human health.
PMCID: PMC4301098  PMID: 25320306
4.  Investigating the Role for IL-21 in Rabies Virus Vaccine-induced Immunity 
Over two-thirds of the world's population lives in regions where rabies is endemic, resulting in over 15 million people receiving multi-dose post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and over 55,000 deaths per year globally. A major goal in rabies virus (RABV) research is to develop a single-dose PEP that would simplify vaccination protocols, reduce costs associated with RABV prevention, and save lives. Protection against RABV infections requires virus neutralizing antibodies; however, factors influencing the development of protective RABV-specific B cell responses remain to be elucidated. Here we used a mouse model of IL-21 receptor-deficiency (IL-21R−/−) to characterize the role for IL-21 in RABV vaccine-induced immunity. IL-21R−/− mice immunized with a low dose of a live recombinant RABV-based vaccine (rRABV) produced only low levels of primary or secondary anti-RABV antibody response while wild-type mice developed potent anti-RABV antibodies. Furthermore, IL-21R−/− mice immunized with low-dose rRABV were only minimally protected against pathogenic RABV challenge, while all wild-type mice survived challenge, indicating that IL-21R signaling is required for antibody production in response to low-dose RABV-based vaccination. IL-21R−/− mice immunized with a higher dose of vaccine produced suboptimal anti-RABV primary antibody responses, but showed potent secondary antibodies and protection similar to wild-type mice upon challenge with pathogenic RABV, indicating that IL-21 is dispensable for secondary antibody responses to live RABV-based vaccines when a primary response develops. Furthermore, we show that IL-21 is dispensable for the generation of Tfh cells and memory B cells in the draining lymph nodes of immunized mice but is required for the detection of optimal GC B cells or plasma cells in the lymph node or bone marrow, respectively, in a vaccine dose-dependent manner. Collectively, our preliminary data show that IL-21 is critical for the development of optimal vaccine-induced primary but not secondary antibody responses against RABV infections.
Author Summary
Over two-thirds of the world's population lives in regions where rabies is endemic, resulting in over 15 million people receiving post-exposure treatment. A person, disproportionately a child, dies of rabies every 20 minutes and the cost of rabies prevention exceeds $1 billion US dollars per year. The development of a single-dose human rabies vaccine would greatly reduce the burden of rabies globally by lowering the cost associated with rabies vaccination and saving lives. Understanding how B cells develop to produce protective virus neutralizing antibodies would greatly help to achieve the goal of developing a single-dose vaccine. In this report, we show that IL-21 is critical for the induction of primary vaccine-induced anti-RABV G antibody titers and that the effects of IL-21 are highly dependent on the dose of vaccine administered. In our model of rabies immunogenicity and protection, the lack of IL-21 receptor influenced the detection of B cells in germinal centers in lymph nodes or of plasma cells in bone marrow after immunization with low or high doses of vaccine, respectively. Overall, these preliminary results indicate that IL-21 has the potential to influence B cell development and functions in the context of rabies vaccine-induced immunity and protection.
PMCID: PMC3597479  PMID: 23516660
5.  A Bivalent, Chimeric Rabies Virus Expressing Simian Immunodeficiency Virus Envelope Induces Multifunctional Antibody Responses 
AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses  2015;31(11):1126-1138.
We previously showed that a matrix (M) gene-deleted rabies virus (RABV)-based vaccine (RABV-ΔM) is highly immunogenic and induces potent B cell responses in the context of RABV infection. We speculated that RABV-ΔM expressing HIV proteins would also induce potent B cell responses against HIV antigens. As a prerequisite to future studies in nonhuman primates, we completed immunogenicity studies in mice to confirm the ability of RABV-ΔM to induce polyfunctional B cell responses in the context of HIV. To that end, the envelope protein from the mac239 strain of SIV (SIVmac239Env) was cloned into RABV-ΔM, resulting in RABV-ΔM-Env. Infectious virus was recovered following standard methods and propagated on baby hamster kidney cells stably expressing RABV M [>107 focus forming units (ffu)/ml]. Western blot analysis of cell lysates or of purified virions confirmed Env expression on the surface of infected cells and within virus particles, respectively. Positive neutralization activity against a neutralization-sensitive SIV strain and to a lesser extent against a neutralization-resistant SIV strain was detected in mice after a single intramuscular inoculation with RABV-ΔM-Env. The quality, but not quantity, of the antibody response was enhanced via boosting with recombinant gp130 or RABV-ΔM-Env as measured by an increase in antibody avidity and a skewing toward a Th1-type antibody response. We also show that an intradermal inoculation induces higher antibodies than an intramuscular or intranasal inoculation. An intradermal inoculation of RABV-ΔM-Env followed by a boost inoculation with recombinant gp130 produced anti-SIV antibodies with neutralizing and nonneutralizing antibody (nNAb) effector functions. Together, RABV-ΔM-Env induces B cells to secrete antibodies against SIV with the potential to clear both “free” and cell-associated virus. Strategies capable of eliciting both NAbs as well as nNAbs might help to improve the efficacy of HIV-1 vaccines.
PMCID: PMC4651037  PMID: 25848984
6.  Rabies Virus Infection Induces Type I Interferon Production in an IPS-1 Dependent Manner While Dendritic Cell Activation Relies on IFNAR Signaling 
PLoS Pathogens  2010;6(7):e1001016.
As with many viruses, rabies virus (RABV) infection induces type I interferon (IFN) production within the infected host cells. However, RABV has evolved mechanisms by which to inhibit IFN production in order to sustain infection. Here we show that RABV infection of dendritic cells (DC) induces potent type I IFN production and DC activation. Although DCs are infected by RABV, the viral replication is highly suppressed in DCs, rendering the infection non-productive. We exploited this finding in bone marrow derived DCs (BMDC) in order to differentiate which pattern recognition receptor(s) (PRR) is responsible for inducing type I IFN following infection with RABV. Our results indicate that BMDC activation and type I IFN production following a RABV infection is independent of TLR signaling. However, IPS-1 is essential for both BMDC activation and IFN production. Interestingly, we see that the BMDC activation is primarily due to signaling through the IFNAR and only marginally induced by the initial infection. To further identify the receptor recognizing RABV infection, we next analyzed BMDC from Mda-5−/− and RIG-I−/− mice. In the absence of either receptor, there is a significant decrease in BMDC activation at 12h post infection. However, only RIG-I−/− cells exhibit a delay in type I IFN production. In order to determine the role that IPS-1 plays in vivo, we infected mice with pathogenic RABV. We see that IPS-1−/− mice are more susceptible to infection than IPS-1+/+ mice and have a significantly increased incident of limb paralysis.
Author Summary
Rabies virus (RABV) is a neurotropic RNA virus responsible for the deaths of the at least 40,000 to 70,000 individuals globally each year. However, the innate immune response induced by both wildtype and vaccine strains of RABV is not well understood. In this study, we assessed the pattern recognition receptors involved in the host immune response to RABV in bone marrow derived dendritic cells (DC). Our studies revealed that Toll like receptor (TLR) signaling is not required to induce innate responses to RABV. On the other hand, we see that IPS-1, the adaptor protein for RIG-I like receptor (RLR) signaling, is essential for induction of innate immune responses. Furthermore, we found that RIG-I and Mda-5, both RLRs, are able to induce DC activation and type I interferon production. This finding is significant as we can target unused pattern recognition receptors with recombinant RABV vaccine strains to elicit a varied, and potentially protective, immune response. Lastly, we show that IPS-1 plays an important role in mediating the pathogenicity of RABV and preventing RABV associated paralysis. Overall, this study illustrates that RLRs are essential for recognition of RABV infection and that the subsequent host cell signaling is required to prevent disease.
PMCID: PMC2908622  PMID: 20661430
7.  Enhancement of Blood-Brain Barrier Permeability and Reduction of Tight Junction Protein Expression Are Modulated by Chemokines/Cytokines Induced by Rabies Virus Infection 
Journal of Virology  2014;88(9):4698-4710.
Infection with laboratory-attenuated rabies virus (RABV) enhances blood-brain barrier (BBB) permeability, which has been demonstrated to be an important factor for host survival, since it allows immune effectors to enter the central nervous system (CNS) and clear RABV. To probe the mechanism by which RABV infection enhances BBB permeability, the expression of tight junction (TJ) proteins in the CNS was investigated following intracranial inoculation with laboratory-attenuated or wild-type (wt) RABV. BBB permeability was significantly enhanced in mice infected with laboratory-attenuated, but not wt, RABV. The expression levels of TJ proteins (claudin-5, occludin, and zonula occludens-1) were decreased in mice infected with laboratory-attenuated, but not wt, RABV, suggesting that enhancement of BBB permeability is associated with the reduction of TJ protein expression in RABV infection. RABV neither infects the brain microvascular endothelial cells (BMECs) nor modulates the expression of TJ proteins in BMECs. However, brain extracts prepared from mice infected with laboratory-attenuated, but not wt, RABV reduced TJ protein expression in BMECs. It was found that brain extracts from mice infected with laboratory-attenuated RABV contained significantly higher levels of inflammatory chemokines/cytokines than those from mice infected with wt RABV. Pathway analysis indicates that gamma interferon (IFN-γ) is located in the center of the cytokine network in the RABV-infected mouse brain, and neutralization of IFN-γ reduced both the disruption of BBB permeability in vivo and the downregulation of TJ protein expression in vitro. These findings indicate that the enhancement of BBB permeability and the reduction of TJ protein expression are due not to RABV infection per se but to virus-induced inflammatory chemokines/cytokines.
IMPORTANCE Previous studies have shown that infection with only laboratory-attenuated, not wild-type, rabies virus (RABV) enhances blood-brain barrier (BBB) permeability, allowing immune effectors to enter the central nervous system (CNS) and clear RABV from the CNS. This study investigated the mechanism by which RABV infection enhances BBB permeability. It was found that RABV infection enhances BBB permeability by downregulation of tight junction (TJ) protein expression in the brain microvasculature. It was further found that it is not RABV infection per se but the chemokines/cytokines induced by RABV infection that downregulate the expression of TJ proteins and enhance BBB permeability. Blocking some of these cytokines, such as IFN-γ, ameliorated both the disruption of BBB permeability and the downregulation of TJ protein expression. These studies may provide a foundation for developing therapeutics for clinical rabies, such as medication that could be used to enhance BBB permeability.
PMCID: PMC3993813  PMID: 24522913
8.  Lymph Node but Not Intradermal Injection Site Macrophages Are Critical for Germinal Center Formation and Antibody Responses to Rabies Vaccination 
Journal of Virology  2014;89(5):2842-2848.
Replication-deficient rabies virus (RABV)-based vaccines induce rapid and potent antibody responses via T cell-independent and T cell-dependent mechanisms. To further investigate early events in vaccine-induced antibody responses against RABV infections, we studied the role of macrophages as mediators of RABV-based vaccine immunogenicity. In this report, we show that a recombinant matrix gene-deleted RABV-based vaccine (rRABV-ΔM) infects and activates primary murine macrophages in vitro. Immunization of mice with live RABV-based vaccines results in accumulation of macrophages at the site of immunization, which suggests that macrophages in tissues support the development of effective anti-RABV B cell responses. However, we show that draining lymph node macrophages, but not macrophages at the site of immunization, are essential for the generation of germinal center B cells, follicular T helper cells, and RABV-specific antibodies. Our findings have implications for the design of new RABV-based vaccines for which early immunological events are important for the protection against RABV in postexposure settings.
IMPORTANCE More than two-thirds of the world's population live in regions where rabies is endemic. Postexposure prophylaxis is the primary means of treating humans. Identifying immunological principles that guide the development of rapid and potent antibody responses against rabies infections will greatly increase our ability to produce more-effective rabies vaccines. Here we report that macrophages in the draining lymph node, but not in the tissue at the site of immunization are important for vaccine-induced antibody responses to rabies. Information gleaned from this study may help guide the development of a single-dose vaccine against rabies infections.
PMCID: PMC4325745  PMID: 25540370
9.  Adeno-Associated Viruses Serotype 2-Mediated RNA Interference Efficiently Inhibits Rabies Virus Replication In Vitro and In Vivo 
To investigate the potential of adeno-associated viruses serotype 2 (AAV2)-mediated RNA interference (RNAi) as an antiviral agent against rabies, recombinant AAV2 vectors expressing siRNA targeting the nucleoprotein (N) gene of rabies virus (RABV) (rAAV-N796) were constructed and evaluated. When NA cells pretreated with rAAV-N796 were challenged with RABV, there was a 37.8 ± 3.4% to 55.1 ± 5.3% reduction in RABV virus titer. When cells pre-challenged with RABV were treated with rAAV-N796, there was a 4.4 ± 1.4 to 28.8 ± 3.2% reduction in RABV virus titer. Relative quantification of RABV transcripts using real-time PCR and Western blot revealed that the knockdown of RABV-N gene transcripts was based on the rAAV-N796 inoculation titer. When any NA cells were treated with rAAV-N796 before or after challenged with RABV, significant reduction in virus titer was observed in both administrations. Mice treated intracerebrally with rAAV-N796 exhibited 50 ± 5.3 and 62.5 ± 4.7% protection when challenged intracerebrally or intramuscally, respectively, with lethal RABV. When mice treated intramuscularly with rAAV-N796 were challenged intramuscularly with lethal RABV, they exhibited 37.5 ± 3.7% protection. When mice were intracerebrally and intramuscularly with rAAV-N796 24 hr after exposure to RABV infection, they exhibited 25 ± 4.1% protection The N gene mRNA levels in the brains of challenged mice with three different administrations were reduced (55, 68, 32 and 25%, respectively). These results indicated that AAV2 vector-mediated siRNA delivery in vitro in NA cells inhibited RABV multiplication, inhibited RABV multiplication in vivo in the mice brain and imparted partial protection against lethal rabies. So, it may have a potential to be used as an alternative antiviral approach against rabies.
PMCID: PMC3942934  PMID: 23774028
AAV2 vectors; inhibit; N gene; RABV; siRNA
10.  Inactivated or Live-Attenuated Bivalent Vaccines That Confer Protection against Rabies and Ebola Viruses ▿  
Journal of Virology  2011;85(20):10605-10616.
The search for a safe and efficacious vaccine for Ebola virus continues, as no current vaccine candidate is nearing licensure. We have developed (i) replication-competent, (ii) replication-deficient, and (iii) chemically inactivated rabies virus (RABV) vaccines expressing Zaire Ebola virus (ZEBOV) glycoprotein (GP) by a reverse genetics system based on the SAD B19 RABV wildlife vaccine. ZEBOV GP is efficiently expressed by these vaccine candidates and is incorporated into virions. The vaccine candidates were avirulent after inoculation of adult mice, and viruses with a deletion in the RABV glycoprotein had greatly reduced neurovirulence after intracerebral inoculation in suckling mice. Immunization with live or inactivated RABV vaccines expressing ZEBOV GP induced humoral immunity against each virus and conferred protection from both lethal RABV and EBOV challenge in mice. The bivalent RABV/ZEBOV vaccines described here have several distinct advantages that may speed the development of inactivated vaccines for use in humans and potentially live or inactivated vaccines for use in nonhuman primates at risk of EBOV infection in endemic areas.
PMCID: PMC3187516  PMID: 21849459
11.  Rabies Virus Expressing Dendritic Cell-Activating Molecules Enhances the Innate and Adaptive Immune Response to Vaccination ▿  
Journal of Virology  2010;85(4):1634-1644.
Our previous studies indicated that recruitment and/or activation of dendritic cells (DCs) is important in enhancing the protective immune responses against rabies virus (RABV) (L. Zhao, H. Toriumi, H. Wang, Y. Kuang, X. Guo, K. Morimoto, and Z. F. Fu, J. Virol. 84:9642-9648). To address the importance of DC activation for RABV vaccine efficacy, the genes for several DC recruitment and/or activation molecules, e.g., granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), macrophage-derived chemokine (MDC), and macrophage inflammatory protein 1α (MIP-1α), were individually cloned into RABV. The ability of these recombinant viruses to activate DCs was determined in vitro and in vivo. Infection of mouse bone marrow-derived DCs with each of the recombinant viruses resulted in DC activation, as shown by increased surface expression of CD11c and CD86 as well as an increased level of alpha interferon (IFN-α) production compared to levels observed after infection with the parent virus. Intramuscular infection of mice with each of the viruses recruited and/or activated more DCs and B cells in the periphery than infection with the parent virus, leading to the production of higher levels of virus-neutralizing antibodies. Furthermore, a single immunization with recombinant RABV expressing GM-CSF or MDC protected significantly more mice against intracerebral challenge with virulent RABV than did immunization with the parental virus. Yet, these viruses did not show more virulence than the parent virus, since direct intracerebral inoculation with each virus at up to 1 × 107 fluorescent focus units each did not induce any overt clinic symptom, such as abnormal behavior, or any neurological signs. Together, these data indicate that recombinant RABVs expressing these molecules activate/recruit DCs and enhance protective immune responses.
PMCID: PMC3028913  PMID: 21106736
12.  Chimeric Rabies Virus-Like Particles Containing Membrane-Anchored GM-CSF Enhances the Immune Response against Rabies Virus 
Viruses  2015;7(3):1134-1152.
Rabies remains an important public health threat in most developing countries. To develop a more effective and safe vaccine against rabies, we have constructed a chimeric rabies virus-like particle (VLP), which containing glycoprotein (G) and matrix protein (M) of rabies virus (RABV) Evelyn-Rokitnicki-Abelseth (ERA) strain, and membrane-anchored granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), and it was named of EVLP-G. The immunogenicity and protective efficacy of EVLP-G against RABV were evaluated by intramuscular administration in a mouse model. The EVLP-G was successfully produced in insect cells by coinfection with three recombinant baculoviruses expressing G, M, and GM-CSF, respectively. The membrane-anchored GM-CSF possesses a strong adjuvant activity. More B cells and dendritic cells (DCs) were recruited and/or activated in inguinal lymph nodes in mice immunized with EVLP-G. EVLP-G was found to induce a significantly increased RABV-specific virus-neutralizing antibody and elicit a larger and broader antibody subclass responses compared with the standard rabies VLP (sRVLP, consisting of G and M). The EVLP-G also elicited significantly more IFN-γ- or IL-4-secreting CD4+ and CD8+ T cells than the sRVLP. Moreover, the immune responses induced by EVLP-G protect all vaccinated mice from lethal challenge with RABV. These results suggest that EVLP-G has the potential to be developed as a novel vaccine candidate for the prevention and control of animal rabies.
PMCID: PMC4379564  PMID: 25768031
rabies virus; virus-like particles; GM-CSF; rabies vaccine
13.  Single Domain Antibody Multimers Confer Protection against Rabies Infection 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e71383.
Post-exposure prophylactic (PEP) neutralizing antibodies against Rabies are the most effective way to prevent infection-related fatality. The outer envelope glycoprotein of the Rabies virus (RABV) is the most significant surface antigen for generating virus-neutralizing antibodies. The small size and uncompromised functional specificity of single domain antibodies (sdAbs) can be exploited in the fields of experimental therapeutic applications for infectious diseases through formatting flexibilities to increase their avidity towards target antigens. In this study, we used phage display technique to select and identify sdAbs that were specific for the RABV glycoprotein from a naïve llama-derived antibody library. To increase their neutralizing potencies, the sdAbs were fused with a coiled-coil peptide derived from the human cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (COMP48) to form homogenous pentavalent multimers, known as combodies. Compared to monovalent sdAbs, the combodies, namely 26424 and 26434, exhibited high avidity and were able to neutralize 85-fold higher input of RABV (CVS-11 strain) pseudotypes in vitro, as a result of multimerization, while retaining their specificities for target antigen. 26424 and 26434 were capable of neutralizing CVS-11 pseudotypes in vitro by 90–95% as compared to human rabies immunoglobulin (HRIG), currently used for PEP in Rabies. The multimeric sdAbs were also demonstrated to be partially protective for mice that were infected with lethal doses of rabies virus in vivo. The results demonstrate that the combodies could be valuable tools in understanding viral mechanisms, diagnosis and possible anti-viral candidate for RABV infection.
PMCID: PMC3748109  PMID: 23977032
14.  Further characterization of the immune response in mice to inactivated and live rabies vaccines expressing Ebola virus glycoprotein 
Vaccine  2012;30(43):6136-6141.
We have previously developed (a) replication-competent, (b) replication-deficient, and (c) chemically inactivated rabies virus (RABV) vaccines expressing ebolavirus (EBOV) glycoprotein (GP) that induce humoral immunity against each virus and confer protection from both lethal RABV and mouse-adapted EBOV challenge in mice. Here, we expand our investigation of the immunogenic properties of these bivalent vaccines in mice. Both live and killed vaccines induced primary EBOV GP-specific T-cells and a robust recall response as measured by interferon-γ ELISPOT assay. In addition to cellular immunity, an effective filovirus vaccine will likely require a multivalent humoral immune response against multiple virus species. As a proof-of-principle experiment, we demonstrated that inactivated RV-GP could be formulated with another inactivated RABV vaccine expressing the nontoxic fragment of botulinum neurotoxin A heavy chain (HC50) without a reduction in immunity to each component. Finally, we demonstrated that humoral immunity to GP could be induced by immunization of mice with inactivated RV-GP in the presence of pre-existing immunity to RABV. The ability of these novel vaccines to induce strong humoral and cellular immunity indicates that they should be further evaluated in additional animal models of infection.
PMCID: PMC3434297  PMID: 22884661
Ebola virus; rabies virus; vaccine; T cell; multivalent; platform
15.  Intramuscular Inoculation of Mice with the Live-Attenuated Recombinant Rabies Virus TriGAS Results in a Transient Infection of the Draining Lymph Nodes and a Robust, Long-Lasting Protective Immune Response against Rabies 
Journal of Virology  2013;87(3):1834-1841.
A single intramuscular application of the live but not UV-inactivated recombinant rabies virus (RABV) variant TriGAS in mice induces the robust and sustained production of RABV-neutralizing antibodies that correlate with long-term protection against challenge with an otherwise lethal dose of the wild-type RABV. To obtain insight into the mechanism by which live TriGAS induces long-lasting protective immunity, quantitative PCR (qPCR) analysis of muscle tissue, draining lymph nodes, spleen, spinal cord, and brain at different times after TriGAS inoculation revealed the presence of significant copy numbers of RABV-specific RNA in muscle, lymph node, and to a lesser extent, spleen for several days postinfection. Notably, no significant amounts of RABV RNA were detected in brain or spinal cord at any time after TriGAS inoculation. Differential qPCR analysis revealed that the RABV-specific RNA detected in muscle is predominantly genomic RNA, whereas RABV RNA detected in draining lymph nodes is predominantly mRNA. Comparison of genomic RNA and mRNA obtained from isolated lymph node cells showed the highest mRNA-to-genomic-RNA ratios in B cells and dendritic cells (DCs), suggesting that these cells represent the major cell population that is infected in the lymph node. Since RABV RNA declined to undetectable levels by 14 days postinoculation of TriGAS, we speculate that a transient infection of DCs with TriGAS may be highly immunostimulatory through mechanisms that enhance antigen presentation. Our results support the superior efficacy and safety of TriGAS and advocate for its utility as a vaccine.
PMCID: PMC3554143  PMID: 23192867
16.  An electrochemiluminescence assay for analysis of rabies virus glycoprotein content in rabies vaccines 
Vaccine  2013;31(33):3333-3338.
Vaccine potency testing is necessary to evaluate the immunogenicity of inactivated rabies virus (RABV) vaccine preparations before human or veterinary application. Currently, the NIH test is recommended by the WHO expert committee to evaluate RABV vaccine potency. However, numerous disadvantages are inherent concerning cost, number of animals and biosafety requirements. As such, several in vitro methods have been proposed for the evaluation of vaccines based on RABV glycoprotein (G) quality and quantity, which is expected to correlate with vaccine potency. In this study an antigen-capture electrochemiluminescent (ECL) assay was developed utilizing anti-RABV G monoclonal antibodies (MAb) to quantify RABV G. One MAb 2-21-14 was specific for a conformational epitope so that only immunogenic, natively-folded G was captured in the assay. A second MAb (62-80-6) that binds a linear epitope or MAb 2-21-14 was used for detection of RABV G. Vaccine efficacy was also assessed in vivo using pre-exposure vaccination of mice. Purified native RABV G induced a RABV neutralizing antibody (rVNA) response with a geometric mean titer of 4.2 IU/ml and protected 100% of immunized mice against RABV challenge, while an experimental vaccine with a lower quality and quantity of G induced a rVNA titer <0.05 IU/ml and protected <50% of immunized mice. These preliminary results support the hypothesis that in vivo immunogenicity may be predicted from the in vitro measurement of RABV G using an ECL assay. Based upon these results, the ECL assay may have utility in replacement of the NIH test.
PMCID: PMC4568986  PMID: 23742991
Rabies virus; Vaccine; Glycoprotein; Electrochemiluminescent assay; Antigenicity; Immunogenicity
17.  Rabies Virus Hijacks and Accelerates the p75NTR Retrograde Axonal Transport Machinery 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(8):e1004348.
Rabies virus (RABV) is a neurotropic virus that depends on long distance axonal transport in order to reach the central nervous system (CNS). The strategy RABV uses to hijack the cellular transport machinery is still not clear. It is thought that RABV interacts with membrane receptors in order to internalize and exploit the endosomal trafficking pathway, yet this has never been demonstrated directly. The p75 Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) receptor (p75NTR) binds RABV Glycoprotein (RABV-G) with high affinity. However, as p75NTR is not essential for RABV infection, the specific role of this interaction remains in question. Here we used live cell imaging to track RABV entry at nerve terminals and studied its retrograde transport along the axon with and without the p75NTR receptor. First, we found that NGF, an endogenous p75NTR ligand, and RABV, are localized in corresponding domains along nerve tips. RABV and NGF were internalized at similar time frames, suggesting comparable entry machineries. Next, we demonstrated that RABV could internalize together with p75NTR. Characterizing RABV retrograde movement along the axon, we showed the virus is transported in acidic compartments, mostly with p75NTR. Interestingly, RABV is transported faster than NGF, suggesting that RABV not only hijacks the transport machinery but can also manipulate it. Co-transport of RABV and NGF identified two modes of transport, slow and fast, that may represent a differential control of the trafficking machinery by RABV. Finally, we determined that p75NTR-dependent transport of RABV is faster and more directed than p75NTR-independent RABV transport. This fast route to the neuronal cell body is characterized by both an increase in instantaneous velocities and fewer, shorter stops en route. Hence, RABV may employ p75NTR-dependent transport as a fast mechanism to facilitate movement to the CNS.
Author Summary
Rabies virus (RABV) is a neurotropic virus that depends on long distance axonal transport in order to reach the central nervous system (CNS). The strategy RABV uses to hijack the cellular transport machinery is unknown. Here we use live cell imaging to track RABV entry at nerve terminals and study its retrograde transport along the axon. First, we demonstrate that RABV interacts with the p75 neurotrophin receptor (p75NTR) at peripheral neuron tips to enter the axon. Then, characterizing RABV retrograde transport along the axon, we showed that the virus moves in acidic compartments, mostly with p75NTR. Interestingly, RABV is transported faster than NGF, an endogenous p75NTR ligand. Finally, we determine that p75NTR-dependent transport of RABV is faster and more directed than p75NTR-independent RABV transport. Hence, RABV not only exploits the neurotrophin transport machinery, but also has a positive influence on transport kinetics, thus facilitating its own arrival at the CNS.
PMCID: PMC4148448  PMID: 25165859
18.  Preclinical Development of Inactivated Rabies Virus–Based Polyvalent Vaccine Against Rabies and Filoviruses 
The Journal of Infectious Diseases  2015;212(Suppl 2):S414-S424.
We previously described the generation of a novel Ebola virus (EBOV) vaccine based on inactivated rabies virus (RABV) containing EBOV glycoprotein (GP) incorporated in the RABV virion. Our results demonstrated safety, immunogenicity, and protective efficacy in mice and nonhuman primates (NHPs). Protection against viral challenge depended largely on the quality of the humoral immune response against EBOV GP.
Here we present the extension and improvement of this vaccine by increasing the amount of GP incorporation into virions via GP codon-optimization as well as the addition of Sudan virus (SUDV) and Marburg virus (MARV) GP containing virions. Immunogenicity studies in mice indicate similar immune responses for both SUDV GP and MARV GP compared to EBOV GP. Immunizing mice with multiple antigens resulted in immune responses similar to immunization with a single antigen. Moreover, immunization of NHP with the new inactivated RABV EBOV vaccine resulted in high titer neutralizing antibody levels and 100% protection against lethal EBOV challenge when applied with adjuvant.
Our results indicate that an inactivated polyvalent vaccine against RABV filoviruses is achievable. Finally, the novel vaccines are produced on approved VERO cells and a clinical grade RABV/EBOV vaccine for human trials has been produced.
PMCID: PMC4564550  PMID: 26063224
Ebola virus; Sudan virus; Marburg virus; rabies virus; vaccine; filovirus; polyvalent vaccine
19.  Antibody Quality and Protection from Lethal Ebola Virus Challenge in Nonhuman Primates Immunized with Rabies Virus Based Bivalent Vaccine 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(5):e1003389.
We have previously described the generation of a novel Ebola virus (EBOV) vaccine platform based on (a) replication-competent rabies virus (RABV), (b) replication-deficient RABV, or (c) chemically inactivated RABV expressing EBOV glycoprotein (GP). Mouse studies demonstrated safety, immunogenicity, and protective efficacy of these live or inactivated RABV/EBOV vaccines. Here, we evaluated these vaccines in nonhuman primates. Our results indicate that all three vaccines do induce potent immune responses against both RABV and EBOV, while the protection of immunized animals against EBOV was largely dependent on the quality of humoral immune response against EBOV GP. We also determined if the induced antibodies against EBOV GP differ in their target, affinity, or the isotype. Our results show that IgG1-biased humoral responses as well as high levels of GP-specific antibodies were beneficial for the control of EBOV infection after immunization. These results further support the concept that a successful EBOV vaccine needs to induce strong antibodies against EBOV. We also showed that a dual vaccine against RABV and filoviruses is achievable; therefore addressing concerns for the marketability of this urgently needed vaccine.
Author Summary
Ebola virus (EBOV) has been associated with outbreaks in human and nonhuman primate populations since 1976. With a fatality rate approaching 90%, EBOV is one of the most lethal infectious diseases in humans. The increased frequency of EBOV outbreaks along with its potential to be used as a bioterrorism agent has dramatically strengthened filovirus vaccine research and development. While there are currently no approved vaccines or post exposure treatments available for human use, several vaccine candidates have shown to protect nonhuman primates from lethal EBOV challenge. Our primary focus is to develop vaccine candidates to protect humans and endangered wildlife species at risk of infection in Africa. Here, we evaluated the efficacy and immunogenicity of our dual vaccines against EBOV and rabies virus (RABV) in rhesus macaques. Our live replication-competent vaccine provided 100% protection following EBOV challenge while the replication-deficient and inactivated candidates provided 50% protection. Interestingly, protection is dependent on the quality of the antibodies rather than the quantity. All three RABV-based EBOV vaccines did induce antibody levels necessary for protection from RABV infection. These results encourage the further development of these novel dual vaccines directed against two of the most lethal viral diseases.
PMCID: PMC3667758  PMID: 23737747
20.  Reinvestigating the Role of IgM in Rabies Virus Postexposure Vaccination 
Journal of Virology  2013;87(16):9217-9222.
B cells secreting IgG antibodies, but not IgM, are thought to be solely responsible for vaccine-induced protection against rabies virus (RABV) infections in postexposure settings. In this report, we reinvestigated the potential for IgM to mediate protection in a mouse model of RABV vaccination. Immunocompetent mice immunized with an experimental live replication-deficient RABV-based vaccine produced virus neutralizing antibodies (VNAs) within 3 days of vaccination. However, mice unable to produce soluble IgM (sIgM−/−) did not produce VNAs until 7 days postimmunization. Furthermore, sIgM−/− mice were not protected against RABV infection when challenged 3 days postimmunization, while all wild-type mice survived challenge. Consistent with the lack of protection against pathogenic RABV challenge, approximately 50- to 100-fold higher viral loads of challenge virus were detected in the muscle, spinal cord, and brain of immunized sIgM−/− mice compared to control mice. In addition, IgG antibody titers in vaccinated wild-type and sIgM−/− mice were similar at all time points postimmunization, suggesting that protection against RABV challenge is due to the direct effects of IgM and not the influence of IgM on the development of effective IgG antibody titers. In all, early vaccine-induced IgM can limit dissemination of pathogenic RABV to the central nervous system and mediate protection against pathogenic RABV challenge. Considering the importance for the rapid induction of VNAs to protect against RABV infections in postexposure prophylaxis settings, these findings may help guide the development of a single-dose human rabies vaccine.
PMCID: PMC3754079  PMID: 23760250
21.  Intracerebral Administration of Recombinant Rabies Virus Expressing GM-CSF Prevents the Development of Rabies after Infection with Street Virus 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e25414.
Recently it was found that prior immunization with recombinant rabies virus (RABV) expressing granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) (LBNSE-GM-CSF) resulted in high innate/adaptive immune responses and protection against challenge with virulent RABV (Wen et al., JVI, 2011). In this study, the ability of LBNSE-GM-CSF to prevent animals from developing rabies was investigated in mice after infection with lethal doses of street RABV. It was found that intracerebral administration of LBNSE-GM-CSF protected more mice from developing rabies than sham-treated mice as late as day 5 after infection with street RABV. Intracerebral administration of LBNSE-GM-CSF resulted in significantly higher levels of chemokine/cytokine expression and more infiltration of inflammatory and immune cells into the central nervous system (CNS) than sham-administration or administration with UV-inactivated LBNSE-GM-CSF. Enhancement of blood-brain barrier (BBB) permeability and increases in virus neutralizing antibodies (VNA) were also observed in mice treated with LBNSE-GM-CSF. On the other hand, intracerebral administration with UV-inactivated LBNSE-GM-CSF did not increase protection despite the fact that VNA were induced in the periphery. However, intracerebral administration with chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1, also termed CCL2) increased significantly the protective efficacy of UV-inactivated LBNSE-GM-CSF. Together these studies confirm that direct administration of LBNSE-GM-CSF can enhance the innate and adaptive immunity as well as the BBB permeability, thus allowing infiltration of inflammatory cells and other immune effectors enter into the CNS to clear the virus and prevent the development of rabies.
PMCID: PMC3182207  PMID: 21980450
22.  iTRAQ protein profile analysis of neuroblastoma (NA) cells infected with the rabies viruses rHep-Flury and Hep-dG 
The rabies virus (RABV) glycoprotein (G) is the principal contributor to the pathogenicity and protective immunity of RABV. In a previous work, we reported that recombinant rabies virus Hep-dG, which was generated by reverse genetics to carry two copies of the G-gene, showed lower virulence than the parental virus rHep-Flury in suckling mice with a better immune protection effect. To better understand the mechanisms underlying rabies virus attenuation and the role of glycoprotein G, isobaric tags for relative and absolute quantitation (iTRAQ) was performed to identify and quantify distinct proteins. 10 and 111 differentially expressed proteins were obtained in rHep-Flury and Hep-dG infection groups, respectively. Selected data were validated by western blot and qRT-PCR. Bioinformatics analysis of the distinct protein suggested that glycoprotein over-expression in the attenuated RABV strain can induce activation of the interferon signaling. Furthermore, it may promote the antiviral response, MHC-I mediated antigen-specific T cell immune response, apoptosis and autophagy in an IFN-dependent manner. These findings might not only improve the understanding of the dynamics of RABV and host interaction, but also help understand the mechanisms underlying innate and adaptive immunity during RABV infection.
PMCID: PMC4493837  PMID: 26217322
rabies virus; glycoprotein; NA; iTRAQ; interferon
23.  Differential Host Immune Responses after Infection with Wild-Type or Lab-Attenuated Rabies Viruses in Dogs 
PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases  2015;9(8):e0004023.
Rabies virus (RABV) induces encephalomyelitis in humans and animals. One of the major problems with rabies is that the infected individuals most often do not develop virus neutralizing antibodies (VNA). In this study we have investigated the host immune response to RABV infection in dogs, using a live-attenuated (TriGAS) or a wild-type (wt) (DRV-NG11) RABV isolated from a rabid dog.
Methodology/Principal Findings
The experimental infection of dogs with TriGAS induced high levels of VNA in the serum, whereas wt RABV infection did not. Dogs infected with TriGAS developed antibodies against the virus including its glycoprotein, whereas dogs infected with DRV-NG11 only developed rabies antibodies that are presumably specific for the nucleoprotein, (N) and not the glycoprotein (G). We show that infection with TriGAS induces early activation of B cells in the draining lymph nodes and persistent activation of DCs and B cells in the blood. On the other hand, infection with DRV-NG11 fails to induce the activation of DCs and B cells and further reduces CD4 T cell production. Further, we show that intrathecal (IT) immunization of TriGAS not only induced high levels of VNA in the serum but also in the CSF while intramuscular (IM) immunization of TriGAS induced VNA only in the serum. In addition, high levels of total protein and WBC were detected in the CSF of IT immunized dogs, indicating the transient enhancement of blood-brain barrier (BBB) permeability, which is relevant to the passage of immune effectors from periphery into the CNS.
IM infection of dogs with TriGAS induced the production of serum VNA whereas, IT immunization of TriGAS in dogs induces high levels of VNA in the periphery as well as in the CSF and transiently enhances BBB permeability. In contrast, infection with wt DRV-NG11 resulted in the production of RABV-reactive antibodies but VNA and antibodies specific for G were absent. As a consequence, all of the dogs infected with wt DRV-NG11 succumbed to rabies. Thus the failure to activate protective immunity is one of the important features of RABV pathogenesis in dogs.
Author Summary
Remarkable advances have been made in elucidating the pathogenesis of rabies. One of the hallmarks of rabies infection is that human patients do not develop VNA. In this present study, immune responses were investigated in dogs after infection with a highly attenuated RABV (TriGAS) or a highly pathogenic, truly wt RABV (DRV-NG11). DRV-NG11 was isolated from the brain of a rabid dog and has not been passaged in laboratory animals or in cell culture. IM infection of dogs with TriGAS induced early activation of DCs and B cells in the blood, and production of VNA in the periphery, whereas, IT infection with TriGAS induced a high level of VNA not only in the serum but also in the CSF. On the contrary, infection of dogs with DRV-NG11 failed to elicit VNA. As a result, none of the dogs infected with wt DRV-NG11 survived. The ability of DRV-NG11 to replicate and spread without triggering an immune response to glycoprotein is evidently an important facet of its pathogenicity.
PMCID: PMC4546273  PMID: 26292099
24.  A Recombinant Rabies Virus Encoding Two Copies of the Glycoprotein Gene Confers Protection in Dogs against a Virulent Challenge 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e87105.
The rabies virus (RABV) glycoprotein (G) is the principal antigen responsible for the induction of virus neutralizing antibodies (VNA) and is the major modality of protective immunity in animals. A recombinant RABV HEP-Flury strain was generated by reverse genetics to encode two copies of the G-gene (referred to as HEP-dG). The biological properties of HEP-dG were compared to those of the parental virus (HEP-Flury strain). The HEP-dG recombinant virus grew 100 times more efficiently in BHK-21 cell than the parental virus, yet the virulence of the dG recombinant virus in suckling mice was lower than the parental virus. The HEP-dG virus can improve the expression of G-gene mRNA and the G protein and produce more offspring viruses in cells. The amount of G protein revealed a positive relationship with immunogenicity in mice and dogs. The inactivated HEP-dG recombinant virus induced higher levels of VNA and conferred better protection against virulent RABV in mice and dogs than the inactivated parental virus and a commercial vaccine. The protective antibody persisted for at least 12 months. These data demonstrate that the HEP-dG is stable, induces a strong VNA response and confers protective immunity more effectively than the RABV HEP-Flury strain. HEP-dG could be a potential candidate in the development of novel inactivated rabies vaccines
PMCID: PMC3911940  PMID: 24498294
25.  Incorporation of membrane-anchored flagellin or Escherichia coli heat-labile enterotoxin B subunit enhances the immunogenicity of rabies virus-like particles in mice and dogs 
Rabies remains an important worldwide public health threat, so safe, effective, and affordable vaccines are still being sought. Virus-like particle-based vaccines targeting various viral pathogens have been successfully produced, licensed, and commercialized. Here, we designed and constructed two chimeric rabies virus-like particles (cRVLPs) containing rabies virus (RABV) glycoprotein (G), matrix (M) protein, and membrane-anchored flagellin (EVLP-F) or Escherichia coli heat-labile enterotoxin B subunit (EVLP-L) as molecular adjuvants to enhance the immune response against rabies. The immunogenicity and potential of cRVLPs as novel rabies vaccine were evaluated by intramuscular vaccination in mouse and dog models. Mouse studies demonstrated that both EVLP-F and EVLP-L induced faster and larger virus-neutralizing antibodies (VNAs) responses and elicited greater numbers of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells secreting IFN-γ or IL-4 compared with a standard rabies VLP (sRVLP) containing only G and M. Moreover, cRVLPs recruited and/or activated more B cells and dendritic cells in inguinal lymph nodes. EVLP-F induced a strong, specific IgG2a response but not an IgG1 response, suggesting the activation of Th1 class immunity; in contrast, Th2 class immunity was observed with EVLP-L. The significantly enhanced humoral and cellular immune responses induced by cRVLPs provided complete protection against lethal challenge with RABV. Most importantly, dogs vaccinated with EVLP-F or EVLP-L exhibited increased VNA titers in sera and enhanced IFN-γ and IL-4 secretion from peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Taken together, these results illustrate that when incorporated into sRVLP, membrane-anchored flagellin, and heat-labile enterotoxin B subunit possess strong adjuvant activity. EVLP-F and EVLP-L induce significantly enhanced RABV-specific humoral and cellular immune responses in both mouse and dog. Therefore, these cRVLPs may be developed as safe and more efficacious rabies vaccine candidate for animals.
PMCID: PMC4347500  PMID: 25784906
rabies virus; virus-like particle; flagellin; LTB; rabies vaccine

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