Influenza A virus drives significant morbidity and mortality in humans and livestock. Annual circulation of the virus in livestock and waterfowl contributes to severe economic disruption and increases the risk of zoonotic transmission of novel strains into the human population, where there is no preexisting immunity. Seasonal vaccinations in humans help prevent infection and can reduce symptoms when infection does occur. However, current vaccination regimens available for livestock are limited in part due to safety concerns regarding reassortment/recombination with circulating strains. Therefore, inactivated vaccines are used instead of the more immunostimulatory live attenuated vaccines. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) have been used previously to generate attenuated influenza A viruses for use as a vaccine. Here, we systematically targeted individual influenza gene mRNAs using the same miRNA to determine the segment(s) that yields maximal attenuation potential. This analysis demonstrated that targeting of NP mRNA most efficiently ablates replication. We further increased the plasticity of miRNA-mediated attenuation of influenza A virus by exploiting a miRNA, miR-21, that is ubiquitously expressed across influenzasusceptible hosts. In order to construct this targeted virus, we used CRISPR/Cas9 to eliminate the universally expressed miR-21 from MDCK cells. miR-21-targeted viruses were attenuated in human, mouse, canine, and avian cells and drove protective immunity in mice. This strategy has the potential to enhance the safety of live attenuated vaccines in humans and zoonotic reservoirs.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by a University of Minnesota Academic Health Center Faculty Research Development grant, NIH K22 AI110581, and NIH R01 AI132962 to R.A.L. E.J.F. was supported by T32 AI007313 and J.K.F. by T32 HL007741.