A SARS-CoV lacking the full-length E gene (SARS-CoV-∆E) was attenuated and an effective vaccine. Here, we show that this mutant virus regained fitness after serial passages in cell culture or in vivo, resulting in the partial duplication of the membrane gene or in the insertion of a new sequence in gene 8a, respectively. The chimeric proteins generated in cell culture increased virus fitness in vitro but remained attenuated in mice. In contrast, during SARS-CoV-∆E passage in mice, the virus incorporated a mutated variant of 8a protein, resulting in reversion to a virulent phenotype. When the full-length E protein was deleted or its PDZ-binding motif (PBM) was mutated, the revertant viruses either incorporated a novel chimeric protein with a PBM or restored the sequence of the PBM on the E protein, respectively. Similarly, after passage in mice, SARS-CoV-∆E protein 8a mutated, to now encode a PBM, and also regained virulence. These data indicated that the virus requires a PBM on a transmembrane protein to compensate for removal of this motif from the E protein. To increase the genetic stability of the vaccine candidate, we introduced small attenuating deletions in E gene that did not affect the endogenous PBM, preventing the incorporation of novel chimeric proteins in the virus genome. In addition, to increase vaccine biosafety, we introduced additional attenuating mutations into the nsp1 protein. Deletions in the carboxy-terminal region of nsp1 protein led to higher host interferon responses and virus attenuation. Recombinant viruses including attenuating mutations in E and nsp1 genes maintained their attenuation after passage in vitro and in vivo. Further, these viruses fully protected mice against challenge with the lethal parental virus, and are therefore safe and stable vaccine candidates for protection against SARS-CoV.
The newly emerged Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has infected at least 1,082 people, including 439 fatalities. So far, no empirical virus isolation study has been done to elucidate infectious virus secretion or serotype variability. Here, we used 51 respiratory samples from 32 patients with confirmed MERS-CoV infection for virus isolation in Vero B4 and Caco-2 cells. We found Caco-2 cells to significantly enhance isolation success over routinely used Vero cells. Isolation success correlated with viral RNA concentration and time after diagnosis as well as with the amount of IgA antibodies secreted in respiratory samples used for isolation. Results from plaque reduction neutralization assays using a representative range of serum samples and virus isolates suggested that all circulating human MERS-CoV strains represent one single serotype. The choice of prototype strain is not likely to influence the success of candidate MERS-CoV vaccines. However, vaccine formulations should be evaluated for their potential to induce IgA.
Since it was discovered in 2012, the camel-borne virus causing Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) has sickened more than 1200 people in the Middle East and killed more than 500 of them.
Scientists worry that the slow-burning epidemic could turn into a global pandemic if the virus changes, so they're hard at work on candidate vaccines for people. But to stamp out the virus before it escalates into an emergency, says Christian Drosten, a virologist at the University of Bonn in Germany, "the best strategy is trying to suppress circulation of the virus in camels." This week online in Science a team reports encouraging results for one candidate camel vaccine, though its main effect—reducing the level of virus shed by the animals—may not be enough to stop MERS's circulation. Nor is it clear whether the vaccine gives lasting protection or whether camel owners will accept vaccinating against a disease that causes hardly any symptoms in the animals.