Influenza A virus (IAV) remains a global health concern despite the availability of a seasonal vaccine. It is difficult to predict which strains will circulate during influenza season, and therefore, it is extremely challenging to test novel vaccines in the human population. To overcome this obstacle, new vaccines must be tested in challenge studies. This approach poses significant safety problems, since current pharmacological interventions for IAV are poorly efficacious. New methods are needed to enhance the safety of these challenge studies. In this study, we have generated a virus expressing a small-molecule-assisted shutoff (SMASh) tag as a safety switch for IAV replication. The addition of the SMASh tag to an essential IAV protein allows for small-molecule-mediated inhibition of replication. Treatment with this drug controls the replication of a SMASh-tagged virus in vitro and in vivo. This model for restriction of viral replication has potential for broad applications in vaccine studies, virotherapy, and basic virus research. IMPORTANCE Influenza A virus (IAV) causes significant morbidity and mortality annually worldwide, despite the availability of new formulations of the vaccine each season. There is a critical need to develop more-efficacious vaccines. However, testing novel vaccines in the human population in controlled studies is difficult due to the limited availability and efficacy of intervention strategies should the vaccine fail. There are also significant safety concerns for work with highly pathogenic IAV strains in the laboratory. Therefore, novel strategies are needed to improve the safety of vaccine studies and of research on highly pathogenic IAV. In this study, we developed an IAV strain engineered to contain a small-molecule-mediated safety switch. This tag, when attached to an essential viral protein, allows for the regulation of IAV replication in vitro and in vivo. This strategy provides a platform for the regulation of virus replication without targeting viral proteins directly.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by startup funds from the University of Minnesota Department of Microbiology and Immunology, NIH NIAID grant K22 AI110581, NIH NIAID grant R01 AI132962 to R.A.L., and Public Health Service grant AI071002 from the NIH NIAID to R.K.P. E.J.F. was supported by NIH NIAID award T32 AI007313.
We thank Stephen Rice for critical reading of the manuscript and Courtney Aldrich for helpful discussions. This work was supported by startup funds from the University of Minnesota Department of Microbiology and Immunology, NIH NIAID grant K22 AI110581, NIH NIAID grant R01 AI132962 to R.A.L., and Public Health Service grant AI071002 from the NIH NIAID to R.K.P. E.J.F. was supported by NIH NIAID award T32 AI007313.
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- Influenza vaccines
- Virus engineering