Zika virus (ZIKV) is a mosquito-borne flavivirus associated with Congenital Zika Syndrome (CZS), reflecting a wide range of congenital abnormalities in fetuses and infants infected with ZIKV before birth. ZIKV infections have also been associated with the neurological autoimmune disorder known as Guillian-Barré syndrome (GBS). To date, no vaccines or antiviral strategies are licensed for ZIKV. We used rational design to develop a novel ZIKV vaccine candidate using a Woodchuck Hepatitis core Antigen (WHcAg) Virus-Like Particle (VLP) scaffold for displaying selected antigens from the ZIKV Envelope (E) protein. A Zika-VLP vaccine candidate containing the CD Loop sub-structural domain from ZIKV E protein Domain III (WHcAg CD Loop) elicited a strong immune response in a murine model. Analysis of serum immunoglobulins demonstrated induction of both Th1- and Th2- mediated immune response. No cross-reacting antibodies were detected between Zika, dengue and yellow fever virus, demonstrating a high level of specificity for the ZIKV CD Loop antigen. Immunization with the WHcAg CD Loop vaccine candidate demonstrated immunoprotection in a murine model of ZIKV infection, stimulating protective antibodies associated with antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC) and complement-dependent cytotoxicity (CDC) activities. The WHcAg CD Loop candidate may represent a safer vaccine for preventing antibody dependent enhancement (ADE).
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