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J Virol. 2016 Jun 24;90(14):6291-6302. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00410-16. Print 2016 Jul 15.

Rearrangement of Influenza Virus Spliced Segments for the Development of Live-Attenuated Vaccines.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York, USA.
David Smith Center for Immunology and Vaccine Biology, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York, USA.
Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York, USA


Influenza viral infections represent a serious public health problem, with influenza virus causing a contagious respiratory disease which is most effectively prevented through vaccination. Segments 7 (M) and 8 (NS) of the influenza virus genome encode mRNA transcripts that are alternatively spliced to express two different viral proteins. This study describes the generation, using reverse genetics, of three different recombinant influenza A/Puerto Rico/8/1934 (PR8) H1N1 viruses containing M or NS viral segments individually or modified M or NS viral segments combined in which the overlapping open reading frames of matrix 1 (M1)/M2 for the modified M segment and the open reading frames of nonstructural protein 1 (NS1)/nuclear export protein (NEP) for the modified NS segment were split by using the porcine teschovirus 1 (PTV-1) 2A autoproteolytic cleavage site. Viruses with an M split segment were impaired in replication at nonpermissive high temperatures, whereas high viral titers could be obtained at permissive low temperatures (33°C). Furthermore, viruses containing the M split segment were highly attenuated in vivo, while they retained their immunogenicity and provided protection against a lethal challenge with wild-type PR8. These results indicate that influenza viruses can be effectively attenuated by the rearrangement of spliced segments and that such attenuated viruses represent an excellent option as safe, immunogenic, and protective live-attenuated vaccines. Moreover, this is the first time in which an influenza virus containing a restructured M segment has been described. Reorganization of the M segment to encode M1 and M2 from two separate, nonoverlapping, independent open reading frames represents a useful tool to independently study mutations in the M1 and M2 viral proteins without affecting the other viral M product.


Vaccination represents our best therapeutic option against influenza viral infections. However, the efficacy of current influenza vaccines is suboptimal, and novel approaches are necessary for the prevention of disease caused by this important human respiratory pathogen. In this work, we describe a novel approach to generate safer and more efficient live-attenuated influenza virus vaccines (LAIVs) based on recombinant viruses whose genomes encode nonoverlapping and independent M1/M2 (split M segment [Ms]) or both M1/M2 and NS1/NEP (Ms and split NS segment [NSs]) open reading frames. Viruses containing a modified M segment were highly attenuated in mice but were able to confer, upon a single intranasal immunization, complete protection against a lethal homologous challenge with wild-type virus. Notably, the protection efficacy conferred by our viruses with split M segments was better than that conferred by the current temperature-sensitive LAIV. Altogether, these results open a new avenue for the development of safer and more protective LAIVs on the basis of the reorganization of spliced viral RNA segments in the genome.

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