African horse sickness virus (AHSV) causes a non-contagious, infectious disease in equids, with mortality rates that can exceed 90% in susceptible horse populations. AHSV vaccines play a crucial role in the control of the disease; however, there are concerns over the use of polyvalent live attenuated vaccines particularly in areas where AHSV is not endemic. Therefore, it is important to consider alternative approaches for AHSV vaccine development. We have carried out a pilot study to investigate the ability of recombinant modified vaccinia Ankara (MVA) vaccines expressing VP2, VP7 or NS3 genes of AHSV to stimulate immune responses against AHSV antigens in the horse.
VP2, VP7 and NS3 genes from AHSV-4/Madrid87 were cloned into the vaccinia transfer vector pSC11 and recombinant MVA viruses generated. Antigen expression or transcription of the AHSV genes from cells infected with the recombinant viruses was confirmed. Pairs of ponies were vaccinated with MVAVP2, MVAVP7 or MVANS3 and both MVA vector and AHSV antigen-specific antibody responses were analysed. Vaccination with MVAVP2 induced a strong AHSV neutralising antibody response (VN titre up to a value of 2). MVAVP7 also induced AHSV antigen–specific responses, detected by western blotting. NS3 specific antibody responses were not detected.
This pilot study demonstrates the immunogenicity of recombinant MVA vectored AHSV vaccines, in particular MVAVP2, and indicates that further work to investigate whether these vaccines would confer protection from lethal AHSV challenge in the horse is justifiable.