One or two injections of MVA-vectored vaccine shields hACE2 transgenic mice from SARS-CoV-2 upper and lower respiratory tract infection

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 Mar 23;118(12):e2026785118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2026785118.


Modified vaccinia virus Ankara (MVA) is a replication-restricted smallpox vaccine, and numerous clinical studies of recombinant MVAs (rMVAs) as vectors for prevention of other infectious diseases, including COVID-19, are in progress. Here, we characterize rMVAs expressing the S protein of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Modifications of full-length S individually or in combination included two proline substitutions, mutations of the furin recognition site, and deletion of the endoplasmic retrieval signal. Another rMVA in which the receptor binding domain (RBD) is flanked by the signal peptide and transmembrane domains of S was also constructed. Each modified S protein was displayed on the surface of rMVA-infected cells and was recognized by anti-RBD antibody and soluble hACE2 receptor. Intramuscular injection of mice with the rMVAs induced antibodies, which neutralized a pseudovirus in vitro and, upon passive transfer, protected hACE2 transgenic mice from lethal infection with SARS-CoV-2, as well as S-specific CD3+CD8+IFNγ+ T cells. Antibody boosting occurred following a second rMVA or adjuvanted purified RBD protein. Immunity conferred by a single vaccination of hACE2 mice prevented morbidity and weight loss upon intranasal infection with SARS-CoV-2 3 wk or 7 wk later. One or two rMVA vaccinations also prevented detection of infectious SARS-CoV-2 and subgenomic viral mRNAs in the lungs and greatly reduced induction of cytokine and chemokine mRNAs. A low amount of virus was found in the nasal turbinates of only one of eight rMVA-vaccinated mice on day 2 and none later. Detection of low levels of subgenomic mRNAs in turbinates indicated that replication was aborted in immunized animals.

Keywords: COVID-19; coronavirus vaccine; modified vaccinia virus Ankara; neutralizing antibody; transgenic mouse model.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2 / genetics
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing / immunology
  • Antibodies, Viral / immunology
  • Antibody Specificity / immunology
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control*
  • COVID-19 Vaccines / administration & dosage
  • COVID-19 Vaccines / genetics
  • COVID-19 Vaccines / immunology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Gene Expression
  • Genetic Vectors / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Immunization
  • Immunization, Passive
  • Immunoglobulin G / immunology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • SARS-CoV-2 / immunology*
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / immunology
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / metabolism
  • Vaccines, DNA / administration & dosage
  • Vaccines, DNA / genetics
  • Vaccines, DNA / immunology*
  • Vaccinia virus / genetics*


  • Antibodies, Neutralizing
  • Antibodies, Viral
  • COVID-19 Vaccines
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus
  • Vaccines, DNA
  • spike protein, SARS-CoV-2
  • ACE2 protein, human
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2