Intranasal SARS-CoV-2 RBD decorated nanoparticle vaccine enhances viral clearance in the Syrian hamster model

Microbiol Spectr. 2024 Mar 5;12(3):e0499822. doi: 10.1128/spectrum.04998-22. Epub 2024 Feb 9.


Multiple vaccines have been developed and licensed for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2). While these vaccines reduce disease severity, they do not prevent infection. To prevent infection and limit transmission, vaccines must be developed that induce immunity in the respiratory tract. Therefore, we performed proof-of-principle studies with an intranasal nanoparticle vaccine against SARS-CoV-2. The vaccine candidate consisted of the self-assembling 60-subunit I3-01 protein scaffold covalently decorated with the SARS-CoV-2 receptor-binding domain (RBD) using the SpyCatcher-SpyTag system. We verified the intended antigen display features by reconstructing the I3-01 scaffold to 3.4 A using cryogenicelectron microscopy. Using this RBD-grafted SpyCage scaffold (RBD + SpyCage), we performed two intranasal vaccination studies in the "gold-standard" pre-clinical Syrian hamster model. The initial study focused on assessing the immunogenicity of RBD + SpyCage combined with the LTA1 intranasal adjuvant. These studies showed RBD + SpyCage vaccination induced an antibody response that promoted viral clearance but did not prevent infection. Inclusion of the LTA1 adjuvant enhanced the magnitude of the antibody response but did not enhance protection. Thus, in an expanded study, in the absence of an intranasal adjuvant, we evaluated if covalent bonding of RBD to the scaffold was required to induce an antibody response. Covalent grafting of RBD was required for the vaccine to be immunogenic, and animals vaccinated with RBD + SpyCage more rapidly cleared SARS-CoV-2 from both the upper and lower respiratory tract. These findings demonstrate the intranasal SpyCage vaccine platform can induce protection against SARS-CoV-2 and, with additional modifications to improve immunogenicity, is a versatile platform for the development of intranasal vaccines targeting respiratory pathogens.IMPORTANCEDespite the availability of efficacious COVID vaccines that reduce disease severity, SARS-CoV-2 continues to spread. To limit SARS-CoV-2 transmission, the next generation of vaccines must induce immunity in the mucosa of the upper respiratory tract. Therefore, we performed proof-of-principle, intranasal vaccination studies with a recombinant protein nanoparticle scaffold, SpyCage, decorated with the RBD of the S protein (SpyCage + RBD). We show that SpyCage + RBD was immunogenic and enhanced SARS-CoV-2 clearance from the nose and lungs of Syrian hamsters. Moreover, covalent grafting of the RBD to the scaffold was required to induce an immune response when given via the intranasal route. These proof-of-concept findings indicate that with further enhancements to immunogenicity (e.g., adjuvant incorporation and antigen optimization), the SpyCage scaffold has potential as a versatile, intranasal vaccine platform for respiratory pathogens.

Keywords: SARS-CoV-2; hamster; vaccines.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing
  • Antibodies, Viral
  • COVID-19 Vaccines*
  • COVID-19* / prevention & control
  • Cricetinae
  • Humans
  • Mesocricetus
  • Nanovaccines
  • SARS-CoV-2


  • COVID-19 Vaccines
  • Nanovaccines
  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing