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J Virol. 2007 Dec;81(24):13412-23. Epub 2007 Oct 3.

Increased immunogenicity of a DNA-launched Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus-based replicon DNA vaccine.

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  • 1Carolina Vaccine Institute, 9th Floor Burnett-Womack, West Drive, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7292, USA.


A novel genetic vaccine that is based on a Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEE) replicon launched from plasmid DNA is described. The plasmid encodes a VEE replicon under the transcriptional control of the cytomegalovirus immediate-early promoter (VEE DNA). The VEE DNA consistently expressed 3- to 15-fold more green fluorescent protein in vitro than did a conventional DNA vaccine. Furthermore, transfection with the DNA-launched VEE replicon induced apoptosis and type I interferon production. Inoculation of mice with VEE DNA encoding human immunodeficiency virus type 1 gp160 significantly increased humoral responses by several orders of magnitude compared to an equal dose of a conventional DNA vaccine. These increases were also observed at 10- and 100-fold-lower doses of the VEE DNA. Cellular immune responses measured by gamma interferon and interleukin 2 enzyme-linked immunospot assay were significantly higher in mice immunized with the VEE DNA at decreased doses. The immune responses induced by the VEE DNA-encoded antigen, however, were independent of an intact type I interferon signaling pathway. Moreover, the DNA-launched VEE replicon induced an efficient prime to a VEE replicon particle (VRP) boost, increasing humoral and cellular immunity by at least 1 order of magnitude compared to VEE DNA only. Importantly, immunization with VEE DNA, as opposed to VRP, did not induce any anti-VRP neutralizing antibodies. Increased potency of DNA vaccines and reduced vector immunity may ultimately have an impact on the design of vaccination strategies in humans.

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