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LIMITED POTENTIAL FOR MOSQUITO TRANSMISSION OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERED, LIVE-ATTENUATED WESTERN EQUINE ENCEPHALITIS VIRUS VACCINE CANDIDATES

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  • 1 Vector Assessment Branch, Virology Division, U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Fort Detrick, Frederick, Maryland

Specific mutations associated with attenuation of Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE) virus in rodent models were identified during efforts to develop an improved VEE vaccine. Analogous mutations were produced in full-length cDNA clones of the Cba 87 strain of western equine encephalitis (WEE) virus by site-directed mutagenesis in an attempt to develop an improved WEE vaccine. Isogenic viral strains with these mutations were recovered after transfection of baby hamster kidney cells with infectious RNA. We evaluated two of these strains (WE2102 and WE2130) for their ability to replicate in and be transmitted by Culex tarsalis, the principal natural vector of WEE virus in the United States. Each of the vaccine candidates contained a deletion of the PE2 furin cleavage site and a secondary mutation in the E1 or E2 glycoprotein. Both of these potential candidates replicated in mosquitoes significantly less efficiently than did either wild-type WEE (Cba 87) virus or the parental clone (WE2000). Likewise, after intrathoracic inoculation, mosquitoes transmitted the vaccine candidate strains significantly less efficiently than they transmitted either the wild-type or the parental clone. One-day-old chickens vaccinated with either of the two vaccine candidates did not become viremic when challenged with virulent WEE virus two weeks later. Mutations that result in less efficient replication in or transmission by mosquitoes should enhance vaccine safety and reduce the possibility of accidental introduction of the vaccine strain to unintentional hosts.

Author Notes

Reprint requests: Michael J. Turell, Vector Assessment Branch, Virology Division, U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, 1425 Porter Street, Fort Detrick, Frederick, MD 21702-5011, Fax: 301-619-2290, e-mail: michael.turell@det.amedd.army.mil
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