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Lassa virus-like particles displaying all major immunological determinants as a vaccine candidate for Lassa hemorrhagic fever

Luis M Branco12, Jessica N Grove1, Frederick J Geske3, Matt L Boisen3, Ivana J Muncy3, Susan A Magliato4, Lee A Henderson5, Randal J Schoepp6, Kathleen A Cashman7, Lisa E Hensley7 and Robert F Garry1*

Author Affiliations

1 Tulane University Health Sciences Center, New Orleans, LA, USA

2 Autoimmune Technologies, LLC, New Orleans, LA, USA

3 Corgenix Medical Corporation, Broomfield, CO, USA

4 Tulane University Department of Pathology, New Orleans, LA, USA

5 Vybion, Inc., Ithaca, NY, USA

6 Applied Diagnostics Branch, Diagnostic Systems Division, U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Fort Detrick, MD, USA

7 Viral Therapeutics Branch, Virology Division, U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases Diagnostic Systems Division, Fort Detrick, MD, USA

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Virology Journal 2010, 7:279  doi:10.1186/1743-422X-7-279

Published: 20 October 2010

Abstract

Background

Lassa fever is a neglected tropical disease with significant impact on the health care system, society, and economy of Western and Central African nations where it is endemic. Treatment of acute Lassa fever infections has successfully utilized intravenous administration of ribavirin, a nucleotide analogue drug, but this is not an approved use; efficacy of oral administration has not been demonstrated. To date, several potential new vaccine platforms have been explored, but none have progressed toward clinical trials and commercialization. Therefore, the development of a robust vaccine platform that could be generated in sufficient quantities and at a low cost per dose could herald a subcontinent-wide vaccination program. This would move Lassa endemic areas toward the control and reduction of major outbreaks and endemic infections. To this end, we have employed efficient mammalian expression systems to generate a Lassa virus (LASV)-like particle (VLP)-based modular vaccine platform.

Results

A mammalian expression system that generated large quantities of LASV VLP in human cells at small scale settings was developed. These VLP contained the major immunological determinants of the virus: glycoprotein complex, nucleoprotein, and Z matrix protein, with known post-translational modifications. The viral proteins packaged into LASV VLP were characterized, including glycosylation profiles of glycoprotein subunits GP1 and GP2, and structural compartmentalization of each polypeptide. The host cell protein component of LASV VLP was also partially analyzed, namely glycoprotein incorporation, though the identity of these proteins remain unknown. All combinations of LASV Z, GPC, and NP proteins that generated VLP did not incorporate host cell ribosomes, a known component of native arenaviral particles, despite detection of small RNA species packaged into pseudoparticles. Although VLP did not contain the same host cell components as the native virion, electron microscopy analysis demonstrated that LASV VLP appeared structurally similar to native virions, with pleiomorphic distribution in size and shape. LASV VLP that displayed GPC or GPC+NP were immunogenic in mice, and generated a significant IgG response to individual viral proteins over the course of three immunizations, in the absence of adjuvants. Furthermore, sera from convalescent Lassa fever patients recognized VLP in ELISA format, thus affirming the presence of native epitopes displayed by the recombinant pseudoparticles.

Conclusions

These results established that modular LASV VLP can be generated displaying high levels of immunogenic viral proteins, and that small laboratory scale mammalian expression systems are capable of producing multi-milligram quantities of pseudoparticles. These VLP are structurally and morphologically similar to native LASV virions, but lack replicative functions, and thus can be safely generated in low biosafety level settings. LASV VLP were immunogenic in mice in the absence of adjuvants, with mature IgG responses developing within a few weeks after the first immunization. These studies highlight the relevance of a VLP platform for designing an optimal vaccine candidate against Lassa hemorrhagic fever, and warrant further investigation in lethal challenge animal models to establish their protective potential.