A plant-produced vaccine protects mice against lethal West Nile virus infection without enhancing Zika or dengue virus infectivity

Huafang Lai, Amber M. Paul, Haiyan Sun, Junyun He, Ming Yang, Fengwei Bai, Qiang Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


West Nile virus (WNV) has caused multiple global outbreaks with increased frequency of neuroinvasive disease in recent years. Despite many years of research, there are no licensed therapeutics or vaccines available for human use. One of the major impediments of vaccine development against WNV is the potential enhancement of infection by related flaviviruses in vaccinated subjects through the mechanism of antibody-dependent enhancement of infection (ADE). For instance, the recent finding of enhancement of Zika virus (ZIKV) infection by pre-exposure to WNV further complicates the development of WNV vaccines. Epidemics of WNV and the potential risk of ADE by current vaccine candidates demand the development of effective and safe vaccines. We have previously reported that the domain III (DIII) of the WNV envelope protein can be readily expressed in Nicotiana benthamiana leaves, purified to homogeneity, and promote antigen-specific antibody response in mice. Herein, we further investigated the in vivo potency of a plant-made DIII (plant-DIII) in providing protective immunity against WNV infection. Furthermore, we examined if vaccination with plant-DIII would enhance the risk of a subsequent infection by ZIKV and Dengue virus (DENV). Plant-DIII vaccination evoked antigen-specific cellular immune responses as well as humoral responses. DIII-specific antibodies were neutralizing and the neutralization titers met the threshold correlated with protective immunity by vaccines against multiple flaviviruses. Furthermore, passive administration of anti-plant DIII mouse serum provided full protection against a lethal challenge of WNV infection in mice. Notably, plant DIII-induced antibodies did not enhance ZIKV and DENV infection in Fc gamma receptor-expressing cells, addressing the concern of WNV vaccines in inducing cross-reactive antibodies and sensitizing subjects to subsequent infection by heterologous flavivirus. This study provides the first report of a WNV subunit vaccine that induces protective immunity, while circumventing induction of antibodies with enhancing activity for ZIKV and DENV infection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1846-1852
Number of pages7
Issue number14
StatePublished - Mar 27 2018


  • Antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE)
  • Dengue virus (DENV)
  • Domain III (DIII)
  • Envelope protein
  • Plant-made pharmaceuticals
  • Plant-produced vaccine
  • Vaccine
  • West Nile virus (WNV)
  • Zika virus (ZIKV)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • veterinary(all)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases


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