Antibodies Elicited by an NS1-Based Vaccine Protect Mice against Zika Virus
Bailey MJ, Broecker F, Duehr J, Arumemi F, Krammer F, Palese P, Tan GS
Zika virus is a mosquito-borne flavivirus which can cause severe disease in humans, including microcephaly and other congenital malformations in newborns and Guillain-Barré syndrome in adults. There are currently no approved prophylactics or therapeutics for Zika virus; the development of a safe and effective vaccine is an urgent priority. Preclinical studies suggest that the envelope glycoprotein can elicit potently neutralizing antibodies. However, such antibodies are implicated in the phenomenon of antibody-dependent enhancement of disease. We have previously shown that monoclonal antibodies targeting the Zika virus nonstructural NS1 protein are protective without inducing antibody-dependent enhancement of disease. Here, we investigated whether the NS1 protein itself is a viable vaccine target. Wild-type mice were vaccinated with an NS1-expressing DNA plasmid followed by two adjuvanted protein boosters, which elicited high antibody titers. Passive transfer of the immune sera was able to significantly protect STAT2 knockout mice against lethal challenge by Zika virus. In addition, long-lasting NS1-specific IgG responses were detected in serum samples from patients in either the acute or the convalescent phase of Zika virus infection. These NS1-specific antibodies were able to functionally engage Fcγ receptors. In contrast, envelope-specific antibodies did not activate Fc-mediated effector functions on infected cells. Our data suggest that the Zika virus NS1 protein, which is expressed on infected cells, is critical for Fc-dependent cell-mediated immunity. The present study demonstrates that the Zika virus NS1 protein is highly immunogenic and can elicit protective antibodies, underscoring its potential for an effective Zika virus vaccine. Zika virus is a global public health threat that causes microcephaly and congenital malformations in newborns and Guillain-Barré syndrome in adults. Currently, no vaccines or treatments are available. While antibodies targeting the envelope glycoprotein can neutralize virus, they carry the risk of antibody-dependent enhancement of disease (ADE). In contrast, antibodies generated against the NS1 protein can be protective without eliciting ADE. The present study demonstrates the effectiveness of an NS1-based vaccine in eliciting high titers of protective antibodies against Zika virus disease in a mouse model. Sera generated by this vaccine can elicit Fc-mediated effector functions against Zika virus-infected cells. Lastly, we provide human data suggesting that the antibody response against the Zika virus NS1 protein is long-lasting and functionally active. Overall, our work will inform the development of a safe and effective Zika virus vaccine.