The RSV Fusion (F) protein is a target for neutralizing antibody responses and is a focus for vaccine discovery; however, the process of RSV entry requires F to adopt a metastable prefusion form and transition to a more stable postfusion form, which displays less potent neutralizing epitopes. mRNA vaccines encode antigens that are translated by host cells following vaccination, which may allow conformational transitions similar to those observed during natural infection to occur. Here we evaluate a panel of chemically modified mRNA vaccines expressing different forms of the RSV F protein, including secreted, membrane associated, prefusion-stabilized, and non-stabilized structures, for conformation, immunogenicity, protection, and safety in rodent models. Vaccination with mRNA encoding native RSV F elicited antibody responses to both prefusion- and postfusion-specific epitopes, suggesting that this antigen may adopt both conformations in vivo. Incorporating prefusion stabilizing mutations further shifts the immune response toward prefusion-specific epitopes, but does not impact neutralizing antibody titer. mRNA vaccine candidates expressing either prefusion stabilized or native forms of RSV F protein elicit robust neutralizing antibody responses in both mice and cotton rats, similar to levels observed with a comparable dose of adjuvanted prefusion stabilized RSV F protein. In contrast to the protein subunit vaccine, mRNA-based vaccines elicited robust CD4+ and CD8+ T-cell responses in mice, highlighting a potential advantage of the technology for vaccines requiring a cellular immune response for efficacy.
Keywords: RNA vaccines; Vaccines; Virology.
© The Author(s) 2020.