Characterization of protection afforded by a bivalent virus-like particle vaccine against bluetongue virus serotypes 1 and 4 in sheep

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BACKGROUND Bluetongue virus (BTV) is an economically important, arthropod borne, emerging pathogen in Europe, causing disease mainly in sheep and cattle. Routine vaccination for bluetongue would require the ability to distinguish between vaccinated and infected individuals (DIVA). Current vaccines are effective but are not DIVA. Virus-like particles (VLPs) are highly immunogenic structural mimics of virus particles, that only contain a subset of the proteins present in a natural infection. VLPs therefore offer the potential for the development of DIVA compatible bluetongue vaccines. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS Merino sheep were vaccinated with either monovalent BTV-1 VLPs or a bivalent mixture of BTV-1 VLPs and BTV-4 VLPs, and challenged with virulent BTV-1 or BTV-4. Animals were monitored for clinical signs, antibody responses, and viral RNA. 19/20 animals vaccinated with BTV-1 VLPs either alone or in combination with BTV-4 VLPs developed neutralizing antibodies to BTV-1, and group specific antibodies to BTV VP7. The one animal that showed no detectable neutralizing antibodies, or group specific antibodies, had detectable viral RNA following challenge but did not display any clinical signs on challenge with virulent BTV-1. In contrast, all control animals' demonstrated classical clinical signs for bluetongue on challenge with the same virus. Six animals were vaccinated with bivalent vaccine and challenged with virulent BTV-4, two of these animals had detectable viral levels of viral RNA, and one of these showed clinical signs consistent with BTV infection and died. CONCLUSIONS There is good evidence that BTV-1 VLPs delivered as monovalent or bivalent immunogen protect from bluetongue disease on challenge with virulent BTV-1. However, it is possible that there is some interference in protective response for BTV-4 in the bivalent BTV-1 and BTV-4 VLP vaccine. This raises the question of whether all combinations of bivalent BTV vaccines are possible, or if immunodominance of particular serotypes could interfere with vaccine efficacy.
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