African horse sickness is a severe, often fatal, arboviral disease of equids. The control of African horse sickness virus (AHSV) in endemic countries is based currently on the use of live attenuated vaccines despite some biosafety concerns derived from its biological properties. Thus, experimental vaccination platforms have been developed over the years in order to avoid the biosafety concerns associated with the use of attenuated vaccines.
Various studies showed that baculovirus-expressed AHSV-VP2 or modified Vaccinia Ankara virus expressing AHSV-VP2 (MVA-VP2) induced virus neutralising antibodies and protective immunity in small animals and horses.
AHSV is an antigenically diverse pathogen and immunity against AHS is serotype-specific. Therefore, AHS vaccines for use in endemic countries need to induce an immune response capable of protecting against all existing serotypes. For this reason, current live attenuated vaccines are administered as polyvalent preparations comprising combinations of AHSV attenuated strains of different serotypes.
Previous studies have shown that it is possible to induce cross-reactive virus neutralising antibodies against different serotypes of AHSV by using polyvalent vaccines comprising combinations of either different serotype-specific VP2 proteins, or MVA-VP2 viruses. However, these strategies could be difficult to implement if induction of protective immunity is highly dependent on using a two-dose vaccination regime for each serotype the vaccine intends to protect against.
In our study, we have tested the protective capacity of MVA-VP2 and baculovirus-expressed VP2 vaccines when a single dose was used. Groups of interferon alpha receptor knock-out mice were inoculated with either MVA-VP2 or baculovirus-expressed VP2 vaccines using one dose or the standard two-dose vaccination regime. After vaccination, all four vaccinated groups were challenged with AHSV and clinical responses, lethality and viraemia compared between the groups. Our results show that complete clinical protection was achieved after a single vaccination with either MVA-VP2 or baculovirus sub-unit VP2 vaccines.