by Hyeree Choi, Sagar B. Kudchodkar, Michelle Ho, Emma L. Reuschel, Erin Reynolds, Ziyang Xu, Devivasha Bordoloi, Kenneth E. Ugen, Pablo Tebas, Joseph Kim, Mohamed Abdel-Mohsen, Saravanan Thangamani, David B. Weiner, Kar Muthumani
Powassan virus (POWV) infection is a tick-borne emerging infectious disease in the United States and North America. Like Zika virus, POWV is a member of the family Flaviviridae. POWV causes severe neurological sequalae, meningitis, encephalitis, and can cause death. Although the risk of human POWV infection is low, its incidence in the U.S. in the past 16 years has increased over 300%, urging immediate attention. Despite the disease severity and its growing potential for threatening larger populations, currently there are no licensed vaccines which provide protection against POWV. We developed a novel synthetic DNA vaccine termed POWV-SEV by focusing on the conserved portions of POWV pre-membrane and envelope (prMEnv) genes. A single immunization of POWV-SEV elicited broad T and B cell immunity in mice with minimal cross-reactivity against other flaviviruses. Antibody epitope mapping demonstrated a similarity between POWV-SEV-induced immune responses and those elicited naturally in POWV-infected patients. Finally, POWV-SEV induced immunity provided protection against POWV disease in lethal challenge experiments.