Identification of immune correlates of protection for viral vaccines is complicated by multiple factors, but there is general consensus on the importance of antibodies that neutralize viral attachment to susceptible cells. Development of new viral vaccines has mostly followed this neutralizing antibody paradigm, but as a recent clinical trial of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) vaccination demonstrated, this singular approach can yield limited protective efficacy. Since HCMV devotes>50% of its coding capacity to proteins that modulate host immunity, it is hypothesized that expansion of vaccine targets to include this part of the viral proteome will disrupt viral natural history. HCMV and rhesus cytomegalovirus (RhCMV) each encode an ortholog to the cellular interleukin-10 (cIL-10) cytokine: cmvIL-10 and rhcmvIL10, respectively. Despite extensive sequence divergence from their host's cIL-10, each viral IL-10 retains nearly identical functionality to cIL-10. Uninfected rhesus macaques were immunized with engineered, nonfunctional rhcmvIL-10 variants, which were constructed by site-directed mutagenesis to abolish binding to the cIL-10 receptor. Vaccinees developed antibodies that neutralized rhcmvIL-10 function with no cross-neutralization of cIL-10. Following subcutaneous RhCMV challenge, the vaccinees exhibited both reduced RhCMV replication locally at the inoculation site and systemically and significantly reduced RhCMV shedding in bodily fluids compared to controls. Attenuation of RhCMV infection by rhcmvIL-10 vaccination argues that neutralization of viral immunomodulation may be a new vaccine paradigm for HCMV by expanding potential vaccine targets.
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