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Four-segmented Rift Valley fever virus-based vaccines can be applied safely in ewes during pregnancy

Wichgers Schreur, Paul J.; Keulen, Lucien van; Kant-Eenbergen, Jet; Kortekaas, Jeroen

Summary

Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV) causes severe and recurrent outbreaks on the African continent and the Arabian Peninsula and continues to expand its habitat. This mosquito-borne virus, belonging to the genus Phlebovirus of the family Bunyaviridae contains a tri-segmented negative-strand RNA genome. Previously, we developed four-segmented RVFV (RVFV-4s) variants by splitting the M-genome segment into two M-type segments each encoding one of the structural glycoproteins; Gn or Gc. Vaccination/challenge experiments with mice and lambs subsequently showed that RVFV-4s induces protective immunity against wild-type virus infection after a single administration. To demonstrate the unprecedented safety of RVFV-4s, we here report that the virus does not cause encephalitis after intranasal inoculation of mice. A study with pregnant ewes subsequently revealed that RVFV-4s does not cause viremia and does not cross the ovine placental barrier, as evidenced by the absence of teratogenic effects and virus in the blood and organs of the fetuses. Altogether, these results show that the RVFV-4s vaccine virus can be applied safely in pregnant ewes.