Tick-borne viruses include medically important zoonotic pathogens that can cause life-threatening diseases. Unlike mosquito-borne viruses, whose impact can be restrained via mosquito population control programs, for tick-borne viruses only vaccination remains the reliable means of disease prevention. For live vaccine viruses a concern exists, that spillovers from viremic vaccinees could result in introduction of genetically modified viruses into sustainable tick-vertebrate host transmission cycle in nature. To restrict tick-borne flavivirus (Langat virus, LGTV) vector tropism, we inserted target sequences for tick-specific microRNAs (mir-1, mir-275 and mir-279) individually or in combination into several distant regions of LGTV genome. This caused selective attenuation of viral replication in tick-derived cells. LGTV expressing combinations of target sequences for tick-and vertebrate CNS-specific miRNAs were developed. The resulting viruses replicated efficiently and remained stable in simian Vero cells, which do not express these miRNAs, however were severely restricted to replicate in tick-derived cells. In addition, simultaneous dual miRNA targeting led to silencing of virus replication in live Ixodes ricinus ticks and abolished virus neurotropism in highly permissive newborn mice. The concurrent restriction of adverse replication events in vertebrate and invertebrate hosts will, therefore, ensure the environmental safety of live tick-borne virus vaccine candidates.
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