Human metapneumovirus (HMPV) is a major cause of respiratory disease in infants, the elderly, and immunocompromised individuals worldwide. There is currently no licensed HMPV vaccine. Virus-like particles (VLPs) are an attractive vaccine candidate because they are noninfectious and elicit a neutralizing antibody response. However, studies show that serum neutralizing antibodies are insufficient for complete protection against reinfection and that adaptive T cell immunity is important for viral clearance. HMPV and other respiratory viruses induce lung CD8(+) T cell (TCD8) impairment, mediated by programmed death 1 (PD-1). In this study, we generated HMPV VLPs by expressing the fusion and matrix proteins in mammalian cells and tested whether VLP immunization induces functional HMPV-specific TCD8 responses in mice. C57BL/6 mice vaccinated twice with VLPs and subsequently challenged with HMPV were protected from lung viral replication for at least 20 weeks postimmunization. A single VLP dose elicited F- and M-specific lung TCD8s with higher function and lower expression of PD-1 and other inhibitory receptors than TCD8s from HMPV-infected mice. However, after HMPV challenge, lung TCD8s from VLP-vaccinated mice exhibited inhibitory receptor expression and functional impairment similar to those of mice experiencing secondary infection. HMPV challenge of VLP-immunized μMT mice also elicited a large percentage of impaired lung TCD8s, similar to mice experiencing secondary infection. Together, these results indicate that VLPs are a promising vaccine candidate but do not prevent lung TCD8 impairment upon HMPV challenge.
Importance: Human metapneumovirus (HMPV) is a leading cause of acute respiratory disease for which there is no licensed vaccine. Virus-like particles (VLPs) are an attractive vaccine candidate and induce antibodies, but T cell responses are less defined. Moreover, HMPV and other respiratory viruses induce lung CD8(+) T cell (TCD8) impairment mediated by programmed death 1 (PD-1). In this study, HMPV VLPs containing viral fusion and matrix proteins elicited epitope-specific TCD8s that were functional with low PD-1 expression. Two VLP doses conferred sterilizing immunity in C57BL/6 mice and facilitated HMPV clearance in antibody-deficient μMT mice without enhancing lung pathology. However, regardless of whether responding lung TCD8s had previously encountered HMPV antigens in the context of VLPs or virus, similar proportions were impaired and expressed comparable levels of PD-1 upon viral challenge. These results suggest that VLPs are a promising vaccine candidate but do not prevent lung TCD8 impairment upon HMPV challenge.
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