Insect cell-produced recombinant protein subunit vaccines protect against Zika virus infection

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Infection with Zika virus (ZIKV) may lead to severe neurologic disorders. It is of significant importance and urgency to develop safe and effective vaccines to prevent ZIKV infection. Here we report the development of ZIKV subunit vaccines based on insect cell-produced recombinant proteins. The N-terminal approximately 80% region (designated as E80) and the domain III (designated as EDIII) of ZIKV envelope (E) protein were efficiently produced as secreted proteins in a Drosophila S2 cell expression system. Both E80 and EDIII could inhibit ZIKV infection in vitro, suggesting that they may have folded properly to display native conformations. Immunization studies demonstrated that both E80 and EDIII vaccines were able to trigger antigen-specific antibody and T-cell responses in mice. The resulting anti-E80 and anti-EDIII sera could potently neutralize ZIKV infection in vitro. More importantly, passive transfer of either anti-E80 or anti-EDIII sera protected recipient mice against lethal ZIKV challenge. It is worth noting that the anti-EDIII sera possessed higher neutralizing titers and conferred more complete protection than the anti-E80 sera, indicating that the S2 cell-produced EDIII is a superior ZIKV vaccine candidate compared with the E80. These data support further preclinical and clinical development of a ZIKV subunit vaccine based on S2 cell-produced EDIII.

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