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Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-477789


The widespread SARS-CoV-2 in humans results in the continuous emergence of new variants. Recently emerged Omicron variant with multiple spike mutations sharply increases the risk of breakthrough infection or reinfection, highlighting the urgent need for new vaccines with broad-spectrum antigenic coverage. Using inter-lineage chimera and mutation patch strategies, we engineered a recombinant monomeric spike variant (STFK1628x), which showed high immunogenicity and mutually complementary antigenicity to its prototypic form (STFK). In hamsters, a bivalent vaccine comprised of STFK and STFK1628x elicited high titers of broad-spectrum antibodies to neutralize all 14 circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants, including Omicron; and fully protected vaccinees from intranasal SARS-CoV-2 challenges of either the ancestral strain or immune-evasive Beta variant. Strikingly, the vaccination of hamsters with the bivalent vaccine completely blocked the within-cage virus transmission to unvaccinated sentinels, for either the ancestral SARS-CoV-2 or Beta variant. Thus, our study provides new insights and antigen candidates for developing next-generation COVID-19 vaccines.

Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-468472


Remarkable progress has been made in developing intramuscular vaccines against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2); however, they are limited with respect to eliciting local immunity in the respiratory tract, which is the primary infection site for SARS-CoV-2. To overcome the limitations of intramuscular vaccines, we constructed a nasal vaccine candidate based on an influenza vector by inserting a gene encoding the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, named CA4-dNS1-nCoV-RBD (dNS1-RBD). A preclinical study showed that in hamsters challenged 1 day and 7 days after single-dose vaccination or 6 months after booster vaccination, dNS1-RBD largely mitigated lung pathology, with no loss of body weight, caused by either the prototype-like strain or beta variant of SARS-CoV-2. Lasted data showed that the animals could be well protected against beta variant challenge 9 months after vaccination. Notably, the weight loss and lung pathological changes of hamsters could still be significantly reduced when the hamster was vaccinated 24 h after challenge. Moreover, such cellular immunity is relatively unimpaired for the most concerning SARS-CoV-2 variants. The protective immune mechanism of dNS1-RBD could be attributed to the innate immune response in the nasal epithelium, local RBD-specific T cell response in the lung, and RBD-specific IgA and IgG response. Thus, this study demonstrates that the intranasally delivered dNS1-RBD vaccine candidate may offer an important addition to fight against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, compensating limitations of current intramuscular vaccines, particularly at the start of an outbreak.

Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-423552


A safe and effective SARS-CoV-2 vaccine is essential to avert the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. Here, we developed a subunit vaccine, which is comprised of CHO-expressed spike ectodomain protein (StriFK) and nitrogen bisphosphonates-modified zinc-aluminum hybrid adjuvant (FH002C). This vaccine candidate rapidly elicited the robust humoral response, Th1/Th2 balanced helper CD4 T cell and CD8 T cell immune response in animal models. In mice, hamsters, and non-human primates, 2-shot and 3-shot immunization of StriFK-FH002C generated 28- to 38-fold and 47- to 269-fold higher neutralizing antibody titers than the human COVID-19 convalescent plasmas, respectively. More importantly, the StriFK-FH002C immunization conferred sterilizing immunity to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection and transmission, which also protected animals from virus-induced weight loss, COVID-19-like symptoms, and pneumonia in hamsters. Vaccine-induced neutralizing and cell-based receptor-blocking antibody titers correlated well with protective efficacy in hamsters, suggesting vaccine-elicited protection is immune-associated. The StriFK-FH002C provided a promising SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate for further clinical evaluation.

Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-215236


The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, caused by SARS-CoV-2 infection, has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths. Cellular entry of SARS-CoV-2, which is mediated by the viral spike protein and host ACE2 receptor, is an essential target for the development of vaccines, therapeutic antibodies, and drugs. Using a mammalian cell expression system, we generated a recombinant fluorescent protein (Gamillus)-fused SARS-CoV-2 spike trimer (STG) to probe the viral entry process. In ACE2-expressing cells, we found that the STG probe has excellent performance in the live-cell visualization of receptor binding, cellular uptake, and intracellular trafficking of SARS-CoV-2 under virus-free conditions. The new system allows quantitative analyses of the inhibition potentials and detailed influence of COVID-19-convalescent human plasmas, neutralizing antibodies and compounds, providing a versatile tool for high-throughput screening and phenotypic characterization of SARS-CoV-2 entry inhibitors. This approach may also be adapted to develop a viral entry visualization system for other viruses.

Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-20153106


ObjectivesThe prevalence of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 among blood donors in China remains unknown. To reveal the missing information, we investigated the seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies among blood donors in the cities of Wuhan, Shenzhen, and Shijiazhuang of China. DesignCross-sectional study SettingThree blood centers, located in the central, south and north China, respectively, recruiting from January to April 2020. Participants38,144 healthy blood donors donated in Wuhan, Shenzhen and Shijiazhuang were enrolled, who were all met the criteria for blood donation during the COVID-19 pandemic in China. Main outcome measuresSpecific antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 including total antibody (TAb), IgG antibody against receptor-binding domain of spike protein (IgG-RBD) and nucleoprotein (IgG-N), and IgM. Pseudotype lentivirus-based neutralization test was performed on all TAb-positive samples. In addition, anonymous personal demographic information, including gender, age, ethnicity, occupation and educational level, and blood type were collected. ResultsA total of 519 samples from 410 donors were confirmed by neutralization tests. The SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence among blood donors was 2.29% (407/17,794, 95%CI: 2.08% to 2.52%) in Wuhan, 0.029% (2/6,810, 95%CI: 0.0081% to 0.11%) in Shenzhen, and 0.0074% (1/13,540, 95%CI: 0.0013% to 0.042%) in Shijiazhuang, respectively. The earliest emergence of SARS-CoV-2 seropositivity in blood donors was identified on January 20, 2020 in Wuhan. The weekly prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in Wuhans blood donors changed dynamically and were 0.08% (95%CI: 0.02% to 0.28%) during January 15 to 22 (before city lockdown), 3.08% (95%CI: 2.67% to 3.55%) during January 23 to April 7 (city quarantine period) and 2.33% (95%CI: 2.06% to 2.63%) during April 8 to 30 (after lockdown easing). Female and older-age were identified to be independent risk factors for SARS-CoV-2 seropositivity among donors in Wuhan. ConclusionsThe prevalence of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 among blood donors in China was low, even in Wuhan city. According to our data, the earliest emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in Wuhans donors should not earlier than January, 2020. As most of the population of China remained uninfected during the early wave of COVID-19 pandemic, effective public health measures are still certainly required to block viral spread before a vaccine is widely available.

Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-174953


Cytokine storm and multi-organ failure are the main causes of SARS-CoV-2-related death. However, the origin of the virus excessively damaging abilities remains unknown. Here we show that the SARS-CoV-2 envelope (2-E) protein alone is sufficient to cause acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)-like damage in vitro and in vivo. Overexpression of 2-E protein induced rapid pyroptosis-like cell death in various susceptible cells and robust secretion of cytokines and chemokines in macrophages. Intravenous administration of purified 2-E protein into mice caused ARDS-like pathological damage in lung and spleen. Overexpressed 2-E protein formed cation channels in host cell membranes, eventually leading to membrane rupture. Newly identified channel inhibitors exhibited potent anti-SARS-CoV-2 activity and excellent protective effects against the 2-E-induced damage both in vitro and in vivo. Importantly, their channel inhibition, cell protection and antiviral activities were positively correlated with each other, supporting 2-E is a promising drug target against SARS-CoV-2.