Journal of virology

Deletion mutants of Schmallenberg virus are avirulent and protect from virus challenge.

PMID 25410877


Since its emergence, Schmallenberg virus (SBV), a novel insect-transmitted orthobunyavirus which predominantly infects ruminants, has caused a large epidemic in European livestock. Newly developed inactivated vaccines are available, but highly efficacious and safe live vaccines are still not available. Here, the properties of novel recombinant SBV mutants lacking the nonstructural protein NSs (rSBVΔNSs) or NSm (rSBVΔNSm) or both of these proteins (rSBVΔNSs/ΔNSm) were tested in vitro and in vivo in type I interferon receptor knockout mice (IFNAR(-/-)) and in a vaccination/challenge trial in cattle. As for other bunyaviruses, both nonstructural proteins of SBV are not essential for viral growth in vitro. In interferon-defective BHK-21 cells, rSBVΔNSs and rSBVΔNSm replicated to levels comparable to that of the parental rSBV; the double mutant virus, however, showed a mild growth defect, resulting in lower final virus titers. Additionally, both mutants with an NSs deletion induced high levels of interferon and showed a marked growth defect in interferon-competent sheep SFT-R cells. Nevertheless, in IFNAR(-/-) mice, all mutants were virulent, with the highest mortality rate for rSBVΔNSs and a reduced virulence for the NSm-deleted virus. In cattle, SBV lacking NSm caused viremia and seroconversion comparable to those caused by the wild-type virus, while the NSs and the combined NSs/NSm deletion mutant induced no detectable virus replication or clinical disease after immunization. Furthermore, three out of four cattle immunized once with the NSs deletion mutant and all animals vaccinated with the virus lacking both nonstructural proteins were fully protected against a challenge infection. Therefore, the double deletion mutant will provide the basis for further developments of safe and efficacious modified live SBV vaccines which could be also a model for other viruses of the Simbu serogroup and related orthobunyaviruses. SBV induces only mild clinical signs in adult ruminants but causes severe fetal malformation and, thereby, can have an important impact on animal welfare and production. As SBV is an insect-transmitted pathogen, vaccination will be one of the most important aspects of disease control. Here, mutant viruses lacking one or two proteins that essentially contribute to viral pathogenicity were tested as modified live vaccines in cattle. It could be demonstrated that a novel recombinant double deletion mutant is a safe and efficacious vaccine candidate. This is the first description of a putative modified live vaccine for the complete genus Orthobunyavirus, and in addition, such a vaccine type has never been tested in cattle for any virus of the entire family Bunyaviridae. Therefore, the described vaccine also represents the first model for a broad range of related viruses and is of high importance to the field.