Induction of neutralizing antibodies specific for the envelope proteins of the koala retrovirus by immunization with recombinant proteins or with DNA

Uwe Fiebig, Britta Dieckhoff, Christian Wurzbacher, Annekathrin Möller, Reinhard Kurth and Joachim Denner*

* Correspondence: [15]. Robert Koch-Institute, Nordufer 20, D-13353 Berlin, Germany


Background   The koala retrovirus (KoRV) is the result of a transspecies transmission of a gammaretrovirus with fatal consequences for the new host. Like many retroviruses, KoRV induces lymphoma, leukemia and an immunodeficiency that is associated with opportunistic infections in the virus-infected animals. We recently reported the induction of neutralizing antibodies by immunization with the recombinant ectodomain of the transmembrane envelope protein p15E of KoRV. Since the neutralization titers of the p15E-specific sera were only moderate, we investigated the use of the surface envelope protein gp70 to induce neutralizing antibodies.
Findings   We immunized rats and goats with the recombinant gp70 protein of the KoRV, an unglycosylated protein of 52kD (rgp70/p52) or with the corresponding DNA. In parallel we immunized with recombinant rp15E or with a combination of rp15E and rgp70/p52. In all cases binding and neutralizing antibodies were induced. The gp70-specific sera had titers of neutralizing antibodies that were 15-fold higher than the p15E-specific sera. Combining rp15E and rgp70/p52 did not significantly increase neutralizing titers compared to rgp70/p52 alone. High titers of neutralizing antibodies specific for gp70 were also induced by immunization with DNA. Since KoRV and PERV are closely related, we investigated cross-neutralization of the antisera. The antisera against p15E and gp70 of PERV and KoRV inhibited infection by both viruses.
Conclusion   The envelope proteins of the KoRV may therefore form the basis of an effective preventive vaccine to protect uninfected koalas from infection and possibly an immunotherapeutic treatment for those already infected.