A New Coronavirus Vaccination Strategy Has Been Developed, With the Potential to Prevent Future Outbreaks.
Researchers in Japan have discovered a vaccination technique in mice that encourages the generation of antibodies that can destroy not only the coronavirus, but also a wide range of other coronaviruses. The method, which will be published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine today (October 8, 2021), could lead to the development of a next-generation vaccination capable of avoiding future coronavirus pandemics if successfully transferred to people.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus penetrates human cells by binding to a cell surface receptor called ACE2 with its spike protein. The spike protein’s receptor-binding domain is divided into two sections: a “core” portion that is quite similar in all coronaviruses, and a highly specific “head” region that mediates ACE2 binding.
Antibodies that target the head region of the spike receptor-binding domain can stop SARS-CoV-2 from infecting cells, but they are ineffective against other coronaviruses, such as the SARS-CoV-1 virus that caused the 2002 SARS outbreak. Antibodies that target the core portion of the spike receptor-binding domain, on the other hand, can stop coronaviruses from infecting human cells. Individuals exposed to the viral spike protein, on the other hand, tend to create a lot of antibodies against the head region but few, if any, antibodies against the core region.
“This suggests that, while broadly neutralizing antibodies can be generated, SARS-CoV-2 infection and current vaccines are unlikely to provide protection against the emergence of novel SARS-related viruses,” says Professor Tomohiro Kurosaki of Osaka University’s WPI Immunology Frontier Research Center. “Given that previous coronavirus epidemics such as SARS-CoV-1 and MERS-CoV occurred as a result of zoonotic coronaviruses crossing the species barrier, the potential for similar viruses to emerge in the future poses a significant threat to global public health, even in the face of effective vaccines for current viruses.” Kurosaki and colleagues decided to put a new vaccination approach to the test to see if it may help the immune system manufacture more widely neutralizing antibodies. The SARS-CoV-2 spike protein’s receptor-binding domain was genetically modified, with the head region covered with extra sugar molecules. These sugar compounds may protect the head portion of the receptor-binding domain from the immune system and increase antibody formation against the exposed core region of the receptor-binding domain.
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