Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) is an important, naturally emerging zoonotic pathogen. Recent outbreaks in Venezuela and Colombia in 1995, involving an estimated 100,000 human cases, indicate that VEEV still poses a serious public health threat. To develop a safe, efficient vaccine that protects against disease resulting from VEEV infection, we generated chimeric Sindbis (SIN) viruses expressing structural proteins of different strains of VEEV and analyzed their replication in vitro and in vivo, as well as the characteristics of the induced immune responses. None of the chimeric SIN/VEE viruses caused any detectable disease in adult mice after either intracerebral (i.c.) or subcutaneous (s.c.) inoculation, and all chimeras were more attenuated than the vaccine strain, VEEV TC83, in 6-day-old mice after i.c. infection. All vaccinated mice were protected against lethal encephalitis following i.c., s.c., or intranasal (i.n.) challenge with the virulent VEEV ZPC738 strain (ZPC738). In spite of the absence of clinical encephalitis in vaccinated mice challenged with ZPC738 via i.n. or i.c. route, we regularly detected high levels of infectious challenge virus in the central nervous system (CNS). However, infectious virus was undetectable in the brains of all immunized animals at 28 days after challenge. Hamsters vaccinated with chimeric SIN/VEE viruses were also protected against s.c. challenge with ZPC738. Taken together, our findings suggest that these chimeric SIN/VEE viruses are safe and efficacious in adult mice and hamsters and are potentially useful as VEEV vaccines. In addition, immunized animals provide a useful model for studying the mechanisms of the anti-VEEV neuroinflammatory response, leading to the reduction of viral titers in the CNS and survival of animals.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science