Rational design of human metapneumovirus live attenuated vaccine candidates by inhibiting viral mRNA cap methyltransferase.

Zhang Y, Wei Y, Zhang X, Cai H, Niewiesk S, Li J
J Virol 88 11411-29 10/01/2014


UNLABELLED: The paramyxoviruses human respiratory syncytial virus (hRSV), human metapneumovirus (hMPV), and human parainfluenza virus type 3 (hPIV3) are responsible for the majority of pediatric respiratory diseases and inflict significant economic loss, health care costs, and emotional burdens. Despite major efforts, there are no vaccines available for these viruses. The conserved region VI (CR VI) of the large (L) polymerase proteins of paramyxoviruses catalyzes methyltransferase (MTase) activities that typically methylate viral mRNAs at positions guanine N-7 (G-N-7) and ribose 2'-O. In this study, we generated a panel of recombinant hMPVs carrying mutations in the S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) binding site in CR VI of L protein. These recombinant viruses were specifically defective in ribose 2'-O methylation but not G-N-7 methylation and were genetically stable and highly attenuated in cell culture and viral replication in the upper and lower respiratory tracts of cotton rats. Importantly, vaccination of cotton rats with these recombinant hMPVs (rhMPVs) with defective MTases triggered a high level of neutralizing antibody, and the rats were completely protected from challenge with wild-type rhMPV. Collectively, our results indicate that (i) amino acid residues in the SAM binding site in the hMPV L protein are essential for 2'-O methylation and (ii) inhibition of mRNA cap MTase can serve as a novel target to rationally design live attenuated vaccines for hMPV and perhaps other paramyxoviruses, such as hRSV and hPIV3.

IMPORTANCE: Human paramyxoviruses, including hRSV, hMPV, and hPIV3, cause the majority of acute upper and lower respiratory tract infections in humans, particularly in infants, children, the elderly, and immunocompromised individuals. Currently, there is no licensed vaccine available. A formalin-inactivated vaccine is not suitable for these viruses because it causes enhanced lung damage upon reinfection with the same virus. A live attenuated vaccine is the most promising vaccine strategy for human paramyxoviruses. However, it remains a challenge to identify an attenuated virus strain that has an optimal balance between attenuation and immunogenicity. Using reverse genetics, we generated a panel of recombinant hMPVs that were specifically defective in ribose 2'-O methyltransferase (MTase) but not G-N-7 MTase. These MTase-defective hMPVs were genetically stable and sufficiently attenuated but retained high immunogenicity. This work highlights a critical role of 2'-O MTase in paramyxovirus replication and pathogenesis and a new avenue for the development of safe and efficacious live attenuated vaccines for hMPV and other human paramyxoviruses.

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