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Virally-vectored vaccine candidates against white-nose syndrome induce anti-fungal immune response in little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus)

April 26, 2019

White-nose syndrome (WNS) caused by the fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd) has killed millions of North American insect-eating bats. Currently, methods to prevent the disease are limited. We conducted two trials to assess potential WNS vaccine candidates in wild-caught Myotis lucifugus. In a pilot study, we immunized bats with one of four vaccine treatments or PBS as a control and challenged them with Pd upon transfer into hibernation chambers. Bats in one vaccine-treated group, that received raccoon poxviruses (RCN) expressing Pd calnexin (CAL) and serine protease (SP), developed WNS at a lower rate (1/10) than other treatments combined (14/23), although samples sizes were small. The results of a second similar trial provided additional support for this observation. Bats vaccinated orally or by injection with RCN-CAL and RCN-SP survived Pd challenge at a significantly higher rate (P = 0.01) than controls. Using RT-PCR and flow cytometry, combined with fluorescent in situ hybridization, we determined that expression of IFN-&#947; transcripts and the number of CD4+ T-helper cells transcribing this gene were elevated (P <0.10) in stimulated lymphocytes from surviving vaccines (n=15) compared to controls (n=3). We conclude that vaccination with virally-vectored Pd antigens induced antifungal immunity that could potentially protect bats against WNS.