Evaluation of bird-adapted self-amplifying mRNA vaccine formulations in chickens

Jerome D.G. Comes, Kristel Doets, Thijmen Zegers, Merel Kessler, Irene Slits, Natalia A. Ballesteros, Noortje M.P. van de Weem, Henk Pouwels, Monique M. van Oers, Marielle C.W. van Hulten, Martijn Langereis, Gorben P. Pijlman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Each year, millions of poultry succumb to highly pathogenic avian influenza A virus (AIV) and infectious bursal disease virus (IBDV) infections. Conventional vaccines based on inactivated or live-attenuated viruses are useful tools for disease prevention and control, yet, they often fall short in terms of safety, efficacy, and development times. Therefore, versatile vaccine platforms are crucial to protect poultry from emerging viral pathogens. Self-amplifying (replicon) RNA vaccines offer a well-defined and scalable option for the protection of both animals and humans. The best-studied replicon platform, based on the Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV; family Togaviridae) TC-83 vaccine strain, however, displays limited efficacy in poultry, warranting the exploration of alternative, avian-adapted, replicon platforms. In this study, we engineered two Tembusu virus (TMUV; family Flaviviridae) replicons encoding varying capsid gene lengths and compared these to the benchmark VEEV replicon in vitro. The TMUV replicon system exhibited a robust and prolonged transgene expression compared to the VEEV replicon system in both avian and mammalian cells. Moreover, the TMUV replicon induced a lesser cytopathic effect compared to the VEEV replicon RNA in vitro. DNA-launched versions of the TMUV and VEEV replicons (DREP) were also developed. The replicons successfully expressed the AIV haemagglutinin (HA) glycoproteins and the IBDV capsid protein (pVP2). To assess the immune responses elicited by the TMUV replicon system in chickens, a prime-boost vaccination trial was conducted using lipid nanoparticle (LNP)-formulated replicon RNA and DREP encoding the viral (glyco)proteins of AIV or IBDV. Both TMUV and VEEV replicon RNAs were unable to induce a humoral response against AIV. However, TMUV replicon RNA induced IBDV-specific seroconversion in vaccinated chickens, in contrast to VEEV replicon RNA, which showed no significant humoral response. In both AIV and IBDV immunization studies, VEEV DREP generated the highest (neutralizing) antibody responses, which underscores the potential for self-amplifying mRNA vaccine technology to combat emerging poultry diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2895-2908
Number of pages14
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 19 Apr 2024


  • Duck Tembusu virus replicon
  • Lipid nanoparticles
  • Self-amplifying mRNA
  • Viral poultry diseases


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