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

May 1, 2019

White-nose syndrome (WNS) caused by the fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd) has killed millions of North American hibernating 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 phosphate-buffered saline (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-γ transcripts and the number of CD4 + T-helper cells transcribing this gene were elevated (P < 0.10) in stimulated lymphocytes from surviving vaccinees (n = 15) compared to controls (n = 3). We conclude that vaccination with virally-vectored Pdantigens induced antifungal immunity that could potentially protect bats against WNS.