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Genetic Vaccines for Anthrax Based on Recombinant Adeno-associated Virus Vectors

Liu TH, Oscherwitz J, Schnepp B, Jacobs J, Yu F, Cease KB, Johnson PR

Bacillus anthracis represents a formidable bioterrorism and biowarfare threat for which new vaccines are needed with improved safety and efficacy over current options. Toward this end, we created recombinant adeno-associated virus type 1 (rAAV1) vectors containing synthetic genes derived from the protective antigen (PA) or lethal factor (LF) of anthrax lethal toxin (LeTx) and tested them for immunogenicity and induction of toxin-neutralizing antibodies in rabbits. Codon-optimized segments encoding activated PA (PA63), or LF, were synthesized and cloned into optimized rAAV1 vectors containing a human cytomegalovirus (hCMV) promoter and synthetic optimized leader. Serum from rabbits immunized intramuscularly with rAAV1/PA (monovalent), rAAV1/LF (monovalent), rAAV1/PA + rAAV1/LF (bivalent), or rAAV1/enhanced green fluorescent protein (control) exhibited substantial PA- and LF-specific antibody responses at 4 weeks by both western blot (> 1:10,000 dilution) and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) (mean end-point titer: 32,000-260,000), and contained anthrax LeTx-neutralizing activity in vitro, with peak titers approximating those of a rabbit hyperimmune antisera raised against soluble PA and LF. Compared to the monovalent groups (rAAV1/PA or rAAV1/LF), the bivalent group (rAAV1/PA + rAAV1/LF) exhibited marginally higher ELISA and neutralization activity with dual specificity for both PA and LF. The finding of robust neutralizing antibody responses after a single injection of these rAAV1-based vectors supports their further development as candidate anthrax vaccines.