Chikungunya virus vaccine candidates with decreased mutational robustness are attenuated in vivo and have compromised transmissibility

Carrau, L; Rezelj, V; Noval, MG; Levi, L; Megrian, D; Blanc, H; Weger-Lucarelli, J; Moratorio, G; Stapleford, K & Vignuzzi, M

Journal of Virology 28/08/2019

PMID: 31270226


Abstract: Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is a reemerged arbovirus, a member of the Togaviridae family. It circulates through mosquito vectors mainly of the Aedes family and a mammalian host. CHIKV causes chikungunya fever, a mild to severe disease characterized by arthralgia, with some fatal outcomes described. In the past years, several outbreaks mainly caused by enhanced adaptation of the virus to the vector and ineffective control of the contacts between infected mosquito populations and the human host have been reported. Vaccines represent the best solution for the control of insect-borne viruses, including CHIKV, but are often unavailable. We designed live attenuated CHIKVs by applying a rational genomic design based on multiple replacements of synonymous codons. In doing so, the virus mutational robustness (capacity to maintain phenotype despite introduction of mutations to genotype) is decreased, driving the viral population toward deleterious evolutionary trajectories. When the candidate viruses were tested in the insect and mammalian hosts, we observed overall strong attenuation in both and greatly diminished signs of disease. Moreover, we found that the vaccine candidates elicited protective immunity related to the production of neutralizing antibodies after a single dose. During an experimental transmission cycle between mosquitoes and naive mice, vaccine candidates could be transmitted by mosquito bite, leading to asymptomatic infection in mice with compromised dissemination. Using deep-sequencing technology, we observed an increase in detrimental (stop) codons, which confirmed the effectiveness of this genomic design. Because the approach involves hundreds of synonymous modifications to the genome, the reversion risk is significantly reduced, rendering the viruses promising vaccine candidates