Dengue fever has become a global threat, causing millions of infections every year. An effective vaccine against all four serotypes of dengue virus (DENV) has not been developed yet. Among the different vaccination strategies available today, DNA vaccines are safe and practical, but currently induce relatively weak immune responses in humans. In order to improve immunogenicity, antigens may be targeted to dendritic cells (DCs), the main antigen presenting cells and orchestrators of the adaptive immune response, inducing T and B cell activation. It was previously shown that a DNA vaccine encoding a fusion protein comprised of an antigen and a single-chain Fv antibody (scFv) specific for the DC endocytic receptor DEC205 induced strong immune responses to the targeted antigen. In this work, we evaluate this strategy to improve the immunogenicity of dengue virus (DENV) proteins. Plasmids encoding the scFv αDEC205, or an isotype control (scFv ISO), fused to the DENV2 envelope protein domain III (EDIII) were generated, and EDIII specific immune responses were evaluated in immunized mice. BALB/c mice were intramuscularly (i.m.) immunized three times with plasmid DNAs encoding either scDEC-EDIII or scISO-EDIII followed by electroporation. Analyses of the antibody responses indicated that EDIII fusion with scFv targeting the DEC205 receptor significantly enhanced serum anti-EDIII IgG titers that inhibited DENV2 infection. Similarly, mice immunized with the scDEC-EDIII plasmid developed a robust CD4+ T cell response to the targeted antigen, allowing the identification of two linear epitopes recognized by the BALB/c haplotype. Taken together, these results indicate that targeting DENV2 EDIII protein to DCs using a DNA vaccine encoding the scFv αDEC205 improves both antibody and CD4+ T cell responses. This strategy opens perspectives for the use of DNA vaccines that encode antigens targeted to DCs as a strategy to increase immunogenicity.
Keywords: DNA vaccine; dendritic cells; dengue fever; envelope protein domain III; single-chain Fv antibody.