Increased Clinical Signs and Mortality in IFNAR(-/-) Mice Immunised with the Bluetongue Virus Outer-Capsid Proteins VP2 or VP5, after Challenge with an Attenuated Heterologous Serotype.

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Bluetongue is an economically important disease of domesticated and wild ruminants caused by bluetongue virus (BTV). There are at least 36 different serotypes of BTV (the identity of which is determined by its outer-capsid protein VP2), most of which are transmitted by Culicoides biting midges. IFNAR(-/-) mice immunised with plant-expressed outer-capsid protein VP2 (rVP2) of BTV serotypes -1, -4 or -8, or the smaller outer-capsid protein rVP5 of BTV-10, or mock-immunised with PBS, were subsequently challenged with virulent strains of BTV-4 or BTV-8, or with an attenuated clone of BTV-1 (BTV-1RGC7). The mice that had received rVP2 generated a protective immune response against the homologous BTV serotype, reducing viraemia (as detected by qRT-PCR), the severity of clinical signs and mortality levels. No cross-serotype protection was observed after challenge with the heterologous BTV serotypes. However, the severity of clinical signs, viraemia and fatality levels after challenge with the attenuated strain of BTV-1 were all increased in mice immunised with rVP2 of BTV-4 and BTV-8, or with rVP5 of BTV10. The possibility is discussed that non-neutralising antibodies, reflecting serological relationships between the outer-capsid proteins of these different BTV serotypes, could lead to ‘antibody-dependent enhancement of infection’ (ADE). Such interactions could affect the epidemiology and emergence of different BTV strains in the field and would therefore be relevant to the design and implementation of vaccination campaigns.