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Development of a vaccine to prevent congenital cytomegalovirus infection is a major public health priority. Live vaccines attenu- ated 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 145), a viral protein kinase R (PKR) inhibitor, was generated. Attenuation was evaluated following inoculation of 107 PFU of 145 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 145, 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. 145 was substantially attenuated for replication in immunocompromised guinea pigs. Vaccination with 145 induced enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and neutraliz- ing antibody levels comparable to those achieved in natural infection. In the higher- and lower-dose vaccine groups, pup mortal- ity 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.
Previous attempts to develop successful immunization against cytomegalovirus have largely centered on subunit vaccination against virion proteins but have yielded disappointing results. The advent of bacterial artificial chromosome technologies has enabled engineering of recombinant cytomegaloviruses (CMVs) from which virus genome-encoded immune modulation genes have been deleted, toward the goal of developing a safe and potentially more efficacious live attenuated vaccine. Here we report the findings of studies of such a vaccine against congenital CMV infection based on a virus with a targeted deletion in gp145, a virus genome-encoded inhibitor of protein kinase R, using the guinea pig model of vertical CMV transmission. The deletion vi- rus was attenuated for dissemination in immunocompromised guinea pigs but elicited ELISA and neutralizing responses. The vaccine conferred protection against maternal DNAemia and congenital transmission and resulted in reduced viral loads in new- born guinea pigs. These results provide support for future studies of attenuated CMV vaccines.

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  • Guinea Pig Congenital Infection Model