Introduction of two prolines and removal of the polybasic cleavage site leads to optimal efficacy of a recombinant spike based SARS-CoV-2 vaccine in the mouse model
The spike protein of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has been identified as the prime target for vaccine development. The spike protein mediates both binding to host cells and membrane fusion and is also so far the only known viral target of neutralizing antibodies. Coronavirus spike proteins are large trimers that are relatively instable, a feature that might be enhanced by the presence of a polybasic cleavage site in the SARS-CoV-2 spike. Exchange of K986 and V987 to prolines has been shown to stabilize the trimers of SARS-CoV-1 and the Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome coronavirus spikes. Here, we test multiple versions of a soluble spike protein for their immunogenicity and protective effect against SARS-CoV-2 challenge in a mouse model that transiently expresses human angiotensin converting enzyme 2 via adenovirus transduction. Variants tested include spike protein with a deleted polybasic cleavage site, the proline mutations, a combination thereof, as well as the wild type protein. While all versions of the protein were able to induce neutralizing antibodies, only the antigen with both a deleted cleavage site and the PP mutations completely protected from challenge in this mouse model. Importance A vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 is urgently needed. A better understanding of antigen design and attributes that vaccine candidates need to have to induce protective immunity is of high importance. The data presented here validates the choice of antigens that contain the PP mutation and suggests that deletion of the polybasic cleavage site could lead to a further optimized design.
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