Development of a vaccine to prevent congenital cytomegalovirus infection is a major public health priority. Live vaccines attenuated through mutations targeting viral mechanisms responsible for evasion of host defense may be both safe and efficacious. Safety and vaccine efficacy were evaluated using a guinea pig cytomegalovirus (GPCMV) model. Recombinant GPCMV with a targeted deletion of gp145 (designated Δ145), a viral protein kinase R (PKR) inhibitor, was generated. Attenuation was evaluated following inoculation of 107 PFU of Δ145 or parental virus into guinea pigs immunosuppressed with cyclophosphamide. Efficacy was evaluated by immunizing GPCMV-naive guinea pigs twice with either 105 or 106 PFU of Δ145, establishing pregnancy, and challenging the guinea pigs with salivary gland-adapted GPCMV. The immune response, maternal viral load, pup mortality, and congenital infection rates in the vaccine and control groups were compared. Δ145 was substantially attenuated for replication in immunocompromised guinea pigs. Vaccination with Δ145 induced enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and neutralizing antibody levels comparable to those achieved in natural infection. In the higher- and lower-dose vaccine groups, pup mortality was reduced to 1/24 (4%) and 4/29 (14%) pups, respectively, whereas it was 26/31 (81%) in unvaccinated control pups (P < 0.0001 for both groups versus the control group). Congenital infection occurred in 20/31 (65%) control pups but only 8/24 (33%) pups in the group vaccinated with 106 PFU (P < 0.05). Significant reductions in the magnitude of maternal DNAemia and pup viral load were noted in the vaccine groups compared to those in the controls. Deletion of a GPCMV genome-encoded PKR inhibitor results in a highly attenuated virus that is immunogenic and protective as a vaccine against transplacental infection.
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© 2015, American Society for Microbiology.