Antigenic and immunogenic characterization of recombinant baculovirus-expressed severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus spike protein: implication for vaccine design

Yuxian He, Jingjing Li, Susanne Heck, Sara Lustigman, Shibo Jiang
Journal of Virology 2006, 80 (12): 5757-67
The spike (S) glycoprotein of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) mediates the receptor interaction and immune recognition and is considered a major target for vaccine design. However, its antigenic and immunogenic properties remain to be elucidated. In this study, we immunized mice with full-length S protein (FL-S) or its extracellular domain (EC-S) expressed by recombinant baculoviruses in insect cells. We found that the immunized mice developed high titers of anti-S antibodies with potent neutralizing activities against SARS pseudoviruses constructed with the S proteins of Tor2, GD03T13, and SZ3, the representative strains of 2002 to 2003 and 2003 to 2004 human SARS-CoV and palm civet SARS-CoV, respectively. These data suggest that the recombinant baculovirus-expressed S protein vaccines possess excellent immunogenicity, thereby inducing highly potent neutralizing responses against human and animal SARS-CoV variants. The antigenic structure of the S protein was characterized by a panel of 38 monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) isolated from the immunized mice. The epitopes of most anti-S MAbs (32 of 38) were localized within the S1 domain, and those of the remaining 6 MAbs were mapped to the S2 domain. Among the anti-S1 MAbs, 17 MAbs targeted the N-terminal region (amino acids [aa] 12 to 327), 9 MAbs recognized the receptor-binding domain (RBD; aa 318 to 510), and 6 MAbs reacted with the C-terminal region of S1 domain that contains the major immunodominant site (aa 528 to 635). Strikingly, all of the RBD-specific MAbs had potent neutralizing activity, 6 of which efficiently blocked the receptor binding, confirming that the RBD contains the main neutralizing epitopes and that blockage of the receptor association is the major mechanism of SARS-CoV neutralization. Five MAbs specific for the S1 N-terminal region exhibited moderate neutralizing activity, but none of the MAbs reacting with the S2 domain and the major immunodominant site in S1 showed neutralizing activity. All of the neutralizing MAbs recognize conformational epitopes. These data provide important information for understanding the antigenicity and immunogenicity of S protein and for designing SARS vaccines. This panel of anti-S MAbs can be used as tools for studying the structure and function of the SARS-CoV S protein.

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