Intramuscular vaccination of guinea pigs with the live-attenuated human herpes simplex vaccine VC2 stimulates a transcriptional profile of vaginal Th17 and regulatory Tr1 responses

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Herpes simplex virus is a common causative agent of oral and genital diseases. Novel vaccines and therapeutics are needed to combat herpes infections especially after the failure of subunit vaccines in human clinical trials. We have shown that the live-attenuated HSV-1 VC2 vaccine strain is unable to establish latency in vaccinated animals and produces a robust immune response capable of completely protecting mice against lethal vaginal HSV-1 or HSV-2 infections. The guinea pig represents the best small animal model of genital HSV-2 disease. Reported here, twenty-one female Hartley guinea pigs received intramuscular injection with either the VC2 vaccine, or equal volume of conditioned tissue culture media. Animals received 2 booster vaccinations at 21 day intervals following the initial vaccination. After vaccination, animals were challenged with the highly virulent HSV-2 (G) strain. Histologically, VC2 vaccinated animals had little to no apparent inflammation/disease following challenge. Unvaccinated animals developed moderate to severe erosive and ulcerative vaginitis. Quantitative reverse-transcriptase PCR analysis in VC2 vaccinated and challenged animals identified transcriptional signatures of Th17 and regulatory Tr1 cells associated with the inflammatory response primed by VC2 vaccination. Treatment of cultured human vaginal epithelial cells (VK2 cells) with a combination of IL-17A and IL-22 resulted in the significant induction of beta-defensin 3 expression. Further, treatment of VK2 cells with IL-17A, IL-22, IL-36 or beta-defensin 3 resulted in diminished HSV-2 replication. Overall, these results suggest that intramuscular vaccination with the live-attenuated vaccine VC2 primes a mucosal immune response predisposing the adaptive expression of transcripts associated with a Th17 response to challenge and these responses contribute to antiviral immunity.

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