Dengue virus is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes and infects at least 100 million people every year. Progressive urbanization in Asia and South-Central America and the geographic expansion of Aedes mosquito habitats have accelerated the global spread of dengue, resulting in a continuously increasing number of cases. A cost-effective, safe vaccine conferring protection with ideally a single injection could stop dengue transmission. Current vaccine candidates require several booster injections or do not provide protection against all four serotypes. Here we demonstrate that dengue virus mutants lacking 2′- O-methyltransferase activity are highly sensitive to type I IFN inhibition. The mutant viruses are attenuated in mice and rhesus monkeys and elicit a strong adaptive immune response. Monkeys immunized with a single dose of 2′- O-methyltransferase mutant virus showed 100% sero-conversion even when a dose as low as 1,000 plaque forming units was administrated. Animals were fully protected against a homologous challenge. Furthermore, mosquitoes feeding on blood containing the mutant virus were not infected, whereas those feeding on blood containing wild-type virus were infected and thus able to transmit it. These results show the potential of 2′- O-methyltransferase mutant virus as a safe, rationally designed dengue vaccine that restrains itself due to the increased susceptibility to the host's innate immune response.
The four serotypes of dengue virus cause severe outbreaks globally in tropical countries with thousands of patients requiring hospitalization. The health care and indirect economic cost of dengue in endemic countries is huge. Despite this, no clinically approved vaccine or antiviral treatment is currently available. Dengue transmission could be stopped with a vaccine that provides full protection to all serotypes. Dengue afflicts many developing countries and a vaccine should therefore be cost-effective and should provide protection with ideally a single injection. Here we present a novel dengue vaccine approach that harbours mutation(s) in the 2′- O-methyltransferase (MTase), a viral enzyme that methylates viral RNA as a strategy to escape the host immune response. Non-methylated RNA is recognized as “foreign” and triggers an interferon response in the cell. The MTase mutant virus is immediately recognized by the host's immune response and hardly has a chance to spread in the organism while an immune response is efficiently triggered by the initially infected cells. Mice and monkeys infected with the mutant virus developed an immune response that fully protected them from a challenge with wild-type virus. Furthermore, we show that MTase mutant dengue virus cannot infect Aedes mosquitoes. Collectively, the results suggest 2′- O-MTase mutant dengue virus as a safe, highly immunogenic vaccine approach.