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Equine herpesvirus type 1 (EHV-1) replication at the upper respiratory entry site is inhibited by neutralizing EHV-1-specific IgG1 and IgG4/7 mucosal antibodies.

Equine herpesvirus type 1 (EHV-1) is a contagious respiratory pathogen that infects the mucosa of the upper respiratory tract (URT). Mucosal immune responses at the URT provide the first line of defense against EHV-1 and are crucial for orchestrating immunity. To define host-pathogen interactions, we characterized B-cell responses, antibody isotype functions, and EHV-1 replication of susceptible (non-immune) and clinically protected (immune) horses after experimental EHV-1 infection. Nasal secretion and nasal wash samples were collected and used for the isolation of DNA, RNA, and mucosal antibodies. Shedding of infectious virus, EHV-1 copy numbers, viral RNA expression, and host B-cell activation in the URT were compared based on host immune status. Mucosal EHV-1-specific antibody responses were associated with EHV-1 shedding and viral RNA transcription. Finally, mucosal immunoglobulin G (IgG) and IgA isotypes were purified and tested for neutralizing capabilities. IgG1 and IgG4/7 neutralized EHV-1, while IgG3/5, IgG6, and IgA did not. Immune horses secreted high amounts of mucosal EHV-1-specific IgG4/7 antibodies and quickly upregulated B-cell pathway genes, while EHV-1 was undetected by virus isolation and PCR. RNA transcription analysis reinforced incomplete viral replication in immune horses. In contrast, complete viral replication with high viral copy numbers and shedding of infectious viruses was characteristic for non-immune horses, together with low or absent EHV-1-specific neutralizing antibodies during viral replication. These data confirm that pre-existing mucosal IgG1 and IgG4/7 and rapid B-cell activation upon EHV-1 infection are essential for virus neutralization, regulation of viral replication, and mucosal immunity against EHV-1.IMPORTANCEEquine herpesvirus type 1 (EHV-1) causes respiratory disease, abortion storms, and neurologic outbreaks known as equine herpes myeloencephalopathy (EHM). EHV-1 is transmitted with respiratory secretions by nose-to-nose contact or via fomites. The virus initially infects the epithelium of the upper respiratory tract (URT). Host-pathogen interactions and mucosal immunity at the viral entry site provide the first line of defense against the EHV-1. Robust mucosal immunity can be essential in protecting against EHV-1 and to reduce EHM outbreaks. It has previously been shown that immune horses do not establish cell-associated viremia, the prerequisite for EHM. Here, we demonstrate how mucosal antibodies can prevent the replication of EHV-1 at the epithelium of the URT and, thereby, the progression of the virus to the peripheral blood. The findings improve the mechanistic understanding of mucosal immunity against EHV-1 and can support the development of enhanced diagnostic tools, vaccines against EHM, and the management of EHV-1 outbreaks.

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