African horse sickness virus (AHSV) with a deletion of 77 amino acids in NS3/NS3a protein is not virulent and a safe promising AHS Disabled Infectious Single Animal (DISA) vaccine platform

Rijn, Piet A. van; Maris-Veldhuis, Mieke A.; Potgieter, Christiaan A.; Gennip, René G.P. van


African horse sickness virus (AHSV) is a virus species in the genus Orbivirus of the family Reoviridae. Currently, nine serotypes have been defined showing limited cross neutralization. AHSV is transmitted by species of Culicoides biting midges and causes African Horse Sickness (AHS) in equids with a mortality up to 95% in naïve domestic horses. AHS has become a serious threat for countries outside Africa, since endemic Culicoides species in moderate climates are competent vectors of closely related bluetongue virus. AHS outbreaks cause huge economic losses in developing countries. In the developed world, outbreaks will result in losses in the equestrian industry and will have an enormous emotional impact on owners of pet horses. Live-attenuated vaccine viruses (LAVs) have been developed, however, safety of these LAVs are questionable due to residual virulence, reversion to virulence, and risk on virulent variants by reassortment between LAVs or with field AHSV. Research aims vaccines with improved profiles. Reverse genetics has recently being developed for AHSV and has opened endless possibilities including development of AHS vaccine candidates, such as Disabled Infectious Single Animal (DISA) vaccine. Here, virulent AHSV5 was recovered and its high virulence was confirmed by experimental infection of ponies. 'synthetically derived’ virulent AHSV5 with an in-frame deletion of 77 amino acids codons in genome segment 10 encoding NS3/NS3a protein resulted in similar in vitro characteristics as published NS3/NS3a knockout mutants of LAV strain AHSV4LP. In contrast to its highly virulent ancestor virus, this deletion AHSV5 mutant (DISA5) was completely safe for ponies. Two vaccinations with DISA5 as well as two vaccinations with DISA vaccine based on LAV strain AHSV4LP showed protection against lethal homologous AHSV. More research is needed to further improve efficacy, to explore the AHS DISA vaccine platform for all nine serotypes, and to study the vaccine profile in more detail.