Research ArticleInfectious Disease

A synthetic consensus anti–spike protein DNA vaccine induces protective immunity against Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus in nonhuman primates

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Science Translational Medicine  19 Aug 2015:
Vol. 7, Issue 301, pp. 301ra132
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aac7462

Emerging vaccines

Public outcry drives vaccine research during outbreaks of emerging infectious disease, but public support for vaccine development dries up when the outbreaks are resolved, frequently leaving promising vaccine candidates sitting on the shelf. DNA vaccines, with their potential for rapid large-scale production, may help overcome this hurdle. Muthumani et al. report the development of a synthetic DNA vaccine against Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) that induces neutralizing antibodies in mice, macaques, and camels—natural hosts of MERS-CoV. Indeed, macaques vaccinated with this DNA vaccine were protected from viral challenge. These promising results support further development of DNA vaccines for emerging infections.


First identified in 2012, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is caused by an emerging human coronavirus, which is distinct from the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), and represents a novel member of the lineage C betacoronoviruses. Since its identification, MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has been linked to more than 1372 infections manifesting with severe morbidity and, often, mortality (about 495 deaths) in the Arabian Peninsula, Europe, and, most recently, the United States. Human-to-human transmission has been documented, with nosocomial transmission appearing to be an important route of infection. The recent increase in cases of MERS in the Middle East coupled with the lack of approved antiviral therapies or vaccines to treat or prevent this infection are causes for concern. We report on the development of a synthetic DNA vaccine against MERS-CoV. An optimized DNA vaccine encoding the MERS spike protein induced potent cellular immunity and antigen-specific neutralizing antibodies in mice, macaques, and camels. Vaccinated rhesus macaques seroconverted rapidly and exhibited high levels of virus-neutralizing activity. Upon MERS viral challenge, all of the monkeys in the control-vaccinated group developed characteristic disease, including pneumonia. Vaccinated macaques were protected and failed to demonstrate any clinical or radiographic signs of pneumonia. These studies demonstrate that a consensus MERS spike protein synthetic DNA vaccine can induce protective responses against viral challenge, indicating that this strategy may have value as a possible vaccine modality against this emerging pathogen.

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