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J Virol. 2013 Feb;87(4):2011-22. doi: 10.1128/JVI.02533-12. Epub 2012 Dec 12.

An Epstein-Barr virus mutant produces immunogenic defective particles devoid of viral DNA.

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DKFZ unit F100, Heidelberg, Germany.


Virus-like particles (VLPs) from hepatitis B and human papillomaviruses have been successfully used as preventative vaccines against these infectious agents. These VLPs consist of a self-associating capsid polymer formed from a single structure protein and are devoid of viral DNA. Since virions from herpesviruses consist of a large number of molecules of viral and cellular origin, generating VLPs from a subset of these would be a particularly arduous task. Therefore, we have adopted an alternative strategy that consists of producing DNA-free defective virus particles in a cell line infected by a herpesvirus mutant incapable of packaging DNA. We previously reported that an Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) mutant devoid of the terminal repeats (ΔTR) that act as packaging signals in herpesviruses produces substantial amounts of VLPs and of light particles (LPs). However, ΔTR virions retained some infectious genomes, and although these mutants had lost their transforming abilities, this poses potential concerns for clinical applications. Therefore, we have constructed a series of mutants that lack proteins involved in maturation and assessed their ability to produce viral DNA-free VLP/LPs. Some of the introduced mutations were deleterious for capsid maturation and virus production. However, deletion of BFLF1/BFRF1A or of BBRF1 resulted in the production of DNA-free VLPs/LPs. The ΔBFLF1/BFRF1A viruses elicited a potent CD4(+) T-cell response that was indistinguishable from the one obtained with wild-type controls. In summary, the defective particles produced by the ΔBFLF1/BFRF1A mutant fulfill the criteria of efficacy and safety expected from a preventative vaccine.

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