Although the severe acute respiratory syndrome-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV) epidemic was controlled by nonvaccine measures, coronaviruses remain a major threat to human health. The design of optimal coronavirus vaccines therefore remains a priority. Such vaccines present major challenges: coronavirus immunity often wanes rapidly, individuals needing to be protected include the elderly, and vaccines may exacerbate rather than prevent coronavirus lung immunopathology. To address these issues, we compared in a murine model a range of recombinant spike protein or inactivated whole-virus vaccine candidates alone or adjuvanted with either alum, CpG, or Advax, a new delta inulin-based polysaccharide adjuvant. While all vaccines protected against lethal infection, addition of adjuvant significantly increased serum neutralizing-antibody titers and reduced lung virus titers on day 3 postchallenge. Whereas unadjuvanted or alum-formulated vaccines were associated with significantly increased lung eosinophilic immunopathology on day 6 postchallenge, this was not seen in mice immunized with vaccines formulated with delta inulin adjuvant. Protection against eosinophilic immunopathology by vaccines containing delta inulin adjuvants correlated better with enhanced T-cell gamma interferon (IFN-γ) recall responses rather than reduced interleukin-4 (IL-4) responses, suggesting that immunopathology predominantly reflects an inadequate vaccine-induced Th1 response. This study highlights the critical importance for development of effective and safe coronavirus vaccines of selection of adjuvants based on the ability to induce durable IFN-γ responses.
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