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Zika virus structural biology and progress in vaccine development.

Biotechnol Adv; 2017 Sep 12.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-28916391
The growing number of zika virus (ZIKV) infections plus a 20-fold increase in neonatal microcephaly in newborns in Brazil have raised alarms in many countries regarding the threat to pregnant women. Instances of microcephaly and central nervous system malformations continue to increase in ZIKV outbreak regions. ZIKV is a small enveloped positive-strand RNA virus belonging to the Flavivirus genus of the Flaviviridae family. High-resolution ZIKV structures recently identified by cryo-electron microscopy indicate that the overall ZIKV structure is similar to those of other flaviviruses. With its compact surface, ZIKV is more thermally stable than the dengue virus (DENV). ZIKV E proteins have a characteristic "herringbone" structure with a single glycosylation site. The ZIKV E protein, the major protein involved in receptor binding and fusion, is formed as a head-to-tail dimer on the surfaces of viral particles. The E monomer consists of three distinct domains: DI, DII, and DIII. The finger-like DII contains a fusion loop (FL) that is inserted into the host cell endosomal membrane during pH-dependent conformational changes that drive fusion. Quaternary E:E dimer epitopes located at the interaction site of prM and E dimers can be further divided into two dimer epitopes. To date, more than 50 ZIKV vaccine candidates are now in various stages of research and development. Candidate ZIKV vaccines that are currently in phase I/II clinical trials include inactivated whole viruses, recombinant measles viral vector-based vaccines, DNA and mRNA vaccines, and a mosquito salivary peptide vaccine. Stabilized forms of ZIKV E:E dimer proteins have been successfully obtained either by introducing additional inter-subunit disulfide bond(s) in DII or via the direct assembly of E:E dimer proteins by immobilization with monomeric E proteins. The VLP-based approach is another alternative method for presenting native E:E dimer antigens among the vaccine components. Several forms of ZIKV VLPs have been reported featuring the co-expression of the prM-E, prM-E-NS1, C-prM-E, and NS2B/NS3 viral genes in human cells. To minimize the effect of the cross-reactive ADE-facilitating antibodies between ZIKV and DENV, several novel mutations have been reported either in or near the FL of DII or DIII to dampen the production of cross-reactive antibodies. Future ZIKV vaccine design efforts should be focused on eliciting improved neutralizing antibodies with a reduced level of cross-reactivity to confer sterilizing immunity.