Journal of virology

Genetic Determinants of Japanese Encephalitis Virus Vaccine Strain SA14-14-2 That Govern Attenuation of Virulence in Mice.

PMID 25855730


The safety and efficacy of the live-attenuated Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) SA14-14-2 vaccine are attributed to mutations that accumulated in the viral genome during its derivation. However, little is known about the contribution that is made by most of these mutations to virulence attenuation and vaccine immunogenicity. Here, we generated recombinant JEV (rJEV) strains containing JEV SA14-14-2 vaccine-specific mutations that are located in the untranslated regions (UTRs) and seven protein genes or are introduced from PCR-amplified regions of the JEV SA14-14-2 genome. The resulting mutant viruses were evaluated in tissue culture and in mice. The authentic JEV SA14-14-2 (E) protein, with amino acid substitutions L107F, E138K, I176V, T177A, E244G, Q264H, K279M, A315V, S366A, and K439R relative to the wild-type rJEV clone, was essential and sufficient for complete attenuation of neurovirulence. Individually, the nucleotide substitution T39A in the 5' UTR (5'-UTR-T39A), the capsid (C) protein amino acid substitution L66S (C-L66S), and the complete NS1/2A genome region containing 10 mutations each significantly reduced virus neuroinvasion but not neurovirulence. The levels of peripheral virulence attenuation imposed by the 5'-UTR-T39A and C-L66S mutations, individually, were somewhat mitigated in combination with other vaccine strain-specific mutations, which might be compensatory, and together did not affect immunogenicity. However, a marked reduction in immunogenicity was observed with the addition of the NS1/2A and NS5 vaccine virus genome regions. These results suggest that a second-generation recombinant vaccine can be rationally engineered to maximize levels of immunogenicity without compromising safety. The live-attenuated JEV SA14-14-2 vaccine has been vital for controlling the incidence of disease caused by JEV, particularly in rural areas of Asia where it is endemic. The vaccine was developed >25 years ago by passaging wild-type JEV strain SA14 in tissue cultures and rodents, with intermittent tissue culture plaque purifications, to produce a virus clone that had adequate levels of attenuation and immunogenicity. The vaccine and parent virus sequences were later compared, and mutations were identified throughout the vaccine virus genome, but their contributions to attenuation were never fully elucidated. Here, using reverse genetics, we comprehensively defined the impact of JEV SA14-14-2 mutations on attenuation of virulence and immunogenicity in mice. These results are relevant for quality control of new lots of the current live-attenuated vaccine and provide insight for the rational design of second-generation, live-attenuated, recombinant JEV vaccine candidates.