Infectious disease has only recently been recognized as a major threat to the survival of Endangered chimpanzees and Critically Endangered gorillas in the wild. One potentially powerful tool, vaccination, has not been deployed in fighting this disease threat, in good part because of fears about vaccine safety. Here we report on what is, to our knowledge, the first trial in which captive chimpanzees were used to test a vaccine intended for use on wild apes rather than humans. We tested a virus-like particle vaccine against Ebola virus, a leading source of death in wild gorillas and chimpanzees. The vaccine was safe and immunogenic. Captive trials of other vaccines and of methods for vaccine delivery hold great potential as weapons in the fight against wild ape extinction.
The filoviruses, Ebola virus and Marburg virus, cause severe hemorrhagic fever with up to 90% human mortality. Virus-like particles of EBOV (eVLPs) and MARV (mVLPs) are attractive vaccine candidates. For the development of stable vaccines, the conformational stability of these two enveloped VLPs produced in insect cells was characterized by various spectroscopic techniques over a wide pH and temperature range. Temperature-induced aggregation of the VLPs at various pH values was monitored by light scattering. Temperature/pH empirical phase diagrams (EPDs) of the two VLPs were constructed to summarize the large volume of data generated. The EPDs show that both VLPs lose their conformational integrity above about 50°C-60°C, depending on solution pH. The VLPs were maximally thermal stable in solution at pH 7-8, with a significant reduction in stability at pH 5 and 6. They were much less stable in solution at pH 3-4 due to increased susceptibility of the VLPs to aggregation. The characterization data and conformational stability profiles from these studies provide a basis for selection of optimized solution conditions for further vaccine formulation and long-term stability studies of eVLPs and mVLPs.
Marburg virus (family Filoviridae) causes sporadic outbreaks of severe hemorrhagic disease in sub-Saharan Africa. Bats have been implicated as likely natural reservoir hosts based most recently on an investigation of cases among miners infected in 2007 at the Kitaka mine, Uganda, which contained a large population of Marburg virus-infected Rousettus aegyptiacus fruit bats. Described here is an ecologic investigation of Python Cave, Uganda, where an American and a Dutch tourist acquired Marburg virus infection in December 2007 and July 2008. More than 40,000 R. aegyptiacus were found in the cave and were the sole bat species present. Between August 2008 and November 2009, 1,622 bats were captured and tested for Marburg virus. Q-RT-PCR analysis of bat liver/spleen tissues indicated ~2.5% of the bats were actively infected, seven of which yielded Marburg virus isolates. Moreover, Q-RT-PCR-positive lung, kidney, colon and reproductive tissues were found, consistent with potential for oral, urine, fecal or sexual transmission. The combined data for R. aegyptiacus tested from Python Cave and Kitaka mine indicate low level horizontal transmission throughout the year. However, Q-RT-PCR data show distinct pulses of virus infection in older juvenile bats (~six months of age) that temporarily coincide with the peak twice-yearly birthing seasons. Retrospective analysis of historical human infections suspected to have been the result of discrete spillover events directly from nature found 83% (54/65) events occurred during these seasonal pulses in virus circulation, perhaps demonstrating periods of increased risk of human infection. The discovery of two tags at Python Cave from bats marked at Kitaka mine, together with the close genetic linkages evident between viruses detected in geographically distant locations, are consistent with R. aegyptiacus bats existing as a large meta-population with associated virus circulation over broad geographic ranges. These findings provide a basis for developing Marburg hemorrhagic fever risk reduction strategies.
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