Rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV) type 2 (GI.2/RHDV2/b) is an emerging pathogen in wild rabbits and in domestic rabbits vaccinated against RHDV (GI.1). Here we report the genome sequence of a contemporary RHDV2 isolate from the Netherlands and investigate the immunogenicity of virus-like particles (VLPs) produced in insect cells. RHDV2 RNA was isolated from the liver of a naturally infected wild rabbit and the complete viral genome sequence was assembled from sequenced RT-PCR products. Phylogenetic analysis based on the VP60 capsid gene demonstrated that the RHDV2 NL2016 isolate clustered with other contemporary RHDV2 strains. The VP60 gene was cloned in a baculovirus expression vector to produce VLPs in Sf9 insect cells. Density-gradient purified RHDV2 VLPs were visualized by transmission electron microscopy as spherical particles of around 30 nm in diameter with a morphology resembling authentic RHDV. Immunization of rabbits with RHDV2 VLPs resulted in high production of serum antibodies against VP60, and the production of cytokines (IFN-γ and IL-4) was significantly elevated in the immunized rabbits compared to the control group. The results demonstrate that the recombinant RHDV2 VLPs are highly immunogenic and may find applications in serological detection assays and might be further developed as a vaccine candidate to protect domestic rabbits against RHDV2 infection.
- baculovirus expression
- insect cells
- rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus 2 (GI.2/RHDV2/b)
- virus-like particles