Species A rotavirus (RVA) vaccines based on live attenuated viruses are used worldwide in humans. The recent establishment of a reverse genetics system for rotoviruses (RVs) has opened the possibility of engineering chimeric viruses expressing heterologous peptides from other viral or microbial species in order to develop polyvalent vaccines. We tested the feasibility of this concept by two approaches. First, we inserted short SARS-CoV-2 spike peptides into the hypervariable region of the simian RV SA11 strain viral protein (VP) 4. Second, we fused the receptor binding domain (RBD) of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, or the shorter receptor binding motif (RBM) nested within the RBD, to the C terminus of nonstructural protein (NSP) 3 of the bovine RV RF strain, with or without an intervening Thosea asigna virus 2A (T2A) peptide. Mutating the hypervariable region of SA11 VP4 impeded viral replication, and for these mutants, no cross-reactivity with spike antibodies was detected. To rescue NSP3 mutants, we established a plasmid-based reverse genetics system for the bovine RV RF strain. Except for the RBD mutant that demonstrated a rescue defect, all NSP3 mutants delivered endpoint infectivity titers and exhibited replication kinetics comparable to that of the wild-type virus. In ELISAs, cell lysates of an NSP3 mutant expressing the RBD peptide showed cross-reactivity with a SARS-CoV-2 RBD antibody. 3D bovine gut enteroids were susceptible to infection by all NSP3 mutants, but cross-reactivity with SARS-CoV-2 RBD antibody was only detected for the RBM mutant. The tolerance of large SARS-CoV-2 peptide insertions at the C terminus of NSP3 in the presence of T2A element highlights the potential of this approach for the development of vaccine vectors targeting multiple enteric pathogens simultaneously.
IMPORTANCE: We explored the use of rotaviruses (RVs) to express heterologous peptides, using SARS-CoV-2 as an example. Small SARS-CoV-2 peptide insertions (<34 amino acids) into the hypervariable region of the viral protein 4 (VP4) of RV SA11 strain resulted in reduced viral titer and replication, demonstrating a limited tolerance for peptide insertions at this site. To test the RV RF strain for its tolerance for peptide insertions, we constructed a reverse genetics system. NSP3 was C-terminally tagged with SARS-CoV-2 spike peptides of up to 193 amino acids in length. With a T2A-separated 193 amino acid tag on NSP3, there was no significant effect on the viral rescue efficiency, endpoint titer, and replication kinetics. Tagged NSP3 elicited cross-reactivity with SARS-CoV-2 spike antibodies in ELISA. We highlight the potential for development of RV vaccine vectors targeting multiple enteric pathogens simultaneously.
Diebold, O., Gonzalez-martinez, V., Venditti, L., Sharp, C., Blake, R., Tan, S., Stevens, J., Caddy, S., Digard, P., Borodavka, A. & Gaunt, E. 2022, 'Using species A rotavirus reverse genetics to engineer chimeric viruses expressing SARS-CoV-2 spike epitopes: Heterologous viral peptide expression by rotavirus A', Journal of Virology, 96(14), article no: e00488-22. https://doi.org/10.1128/jvi.00488-22