Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is an emerging infectious disease caused by MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV). The continuous increase of MERS cases has posed a serious threat to public health worldwide, calling for development of safe and effective MERS vaccines. We have previously shown that a recombinant protein containing residues 377-588 of MERS-CoV receptor-binding domain (RBD) fused with human Fc (S377-588-Fc) induced highly potent anti-MERS-CoV neutralizing antibodies in the presence of MF59 adjuvant. Here we optimized the doses of S377-588-Fc using MF59 as an adjuvant in order to elicit strong immune responses with minimal amount of antigen. Our results showed that S377-588-Fc at 1 μg was able to induce in the immunized mice potent humoral and cellular immune responses. Particularly, S377-588-Fc at 1 μg elicited strong neutralizing antibody responses against both pseudotyped and live MERS-CoV similar to those induced at 5 and 20 μg, respectively. These results suggest that this RBD-based subunit MERS vaccine candidate at the dose as low as one μg is sufficiently potent to induce strong humoral and cellular immune responses, including neutralizing antibodies, against MERS-CoV infection, thus providing guidance for determining the optimal dosage of RBD-based MERS vaccines in the future clinical trials and for applying the dose-sparing strategy in other subunit vaccine trials.
Keywords: MERS; MERS-CoV; antigen doses; receptor-binding domain; subunit vaccines.