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Concept: Vaccine


Smallpox holds a unique position in the history of medicine. It was the first disease for which a vaccine was developed and remains the only human disease eradicated by vaccination. Although there have been claims of smallpox in Egypt, India, and China dating back millennia [1-4], the timescale of emergence of the causative agent, variola virus (VARV), and how it evolved in the context of increasingly widespread immunization, have proven controversial [4-9]. In particular, some molecular-clock-based studies have suggested that key events in VARV evolution only occurred during the last two centuries [4-6] and hence in apparent conflict with anecdotal historical reports, although it is difficult to distinguish smallpox from other pustular rashes by description alone. To address these issues, we captured, sequenced, and reconstructed a draft genome of an ancient strain of VARV, sampled from a Lithuanian child mummy dating between 1643 and 1665 and close to the time of several documented European epidemics [1, 2, 10]. When compared to vaccinia virus, this archival strain contained the same pattern of gene degradation as 20(th) century VARVs, indicating that such loss of gene function had occurred before ca. 1650. Strikingly, the mummy sequence fell basal to all currently sequenced strains of VARV on phylogenetic trees. Molecular-clock analyses revealed a strong clock-like structure and that the timescale of smallpox evolution is more recent than often supposed, with the diversification of major viral lineages only occurring within the 18(th) and 19(th) centuries, concomitant with the development of modern vaccination.

Concepts: Infectious disease, Virus, Vaccine, Vaccination, Vaccinia, Poxviridae, Smallpox, Cowpox


Females have generally more robust immune responses than males for reasons that are not well-understood. Here we used a systems analysis to investigate these differences by analyzing the neutralizing antibody response to a trivalent inactivated seasonal influenza vaccine (TIV) and a large number of immune system components, including serum cytokines and chemokines, blood cell subset frequencies, genome-wide gene expression, and cellular responses to diverse in vitro stimuli, in 53 females and 34 males of different ages. We found elevated antibody responses to TIV and expression of inflammatory cytokines in the serum of females compared with males regardless of age. This inflammatory profile correlated with the levels of phosphorylated STAT3 proteins in monocytes but not with the serological response to the vaccine. In contrast, using a machine learning approach, we identified a cluster of genes involved in lipid biosynthesis and previously shown to be up-regulated by testosterone that correlated with poor virus-neutralizing activity in men. Moreover, men with elevated serum testosterone levels and associated gene signatures exhibited the lowest antibody responses to TIV. These results demonstrate a strong association between androgens and genes involved in lipid metabolism, suggesting that these could be important drivers of the differences in immune responses between males and females.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, Protein, Bacteria, Organism, Vaccine, Vaccination, Immunology


Induction of broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs) is a primary goal of HIV vaccine development. VRC01-class bnAbs are important vaccine leads because their precursor B cells targeted by an engineered priming immunogen are relatively common among humans. This priming immunogen has demonstrated the ability to initiate a bnAb response in animal models, but recall and maturation toward bnAb development has not been shown. Here, we report the development of boosting immunogens designed to guide the genetic and functional maturation of previously primed VRC01-class precursors. Boosting a transgenic mouse model expressing germline VRC01 heavy chains produced broad neutralization of near-native isolates (N276A) and weak neutralization of fully native HIV. Functional and genetic characteristics indicate that the boosted mAbs are consistent with partially mature VRC01-class antibodies and place them on a maturation trajectory that leads toward mature VRC01-class bnAbs. The results show how reductionist sequential immunization can guide maturation of HIV bnAb responses.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, Genetics, Gene expression, Bacteria, Developmental biology, Vaccine, Antigen


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is defined by standardized criteria of qualitative impairments in social interaction, qualitative impairments in communication, and restricted and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities. A significant number of children diagnosed with ASD suffer a loss of previously-acquired skills, which is suggestive of neurodegeneration or a type of progressive encephalopathy with an etiological pathogenic basis occurring after birth. To date, the etiology of ASD remains under debate, however, many studies suggest toxicity, especially from mercury (Hg), in individuals diagnosed with an ASD. The present study evaluated concerns about the toxic effects of organic-Hg exposure from Thimerosal (49.55% Hg by weight) in childhood vaccines by conducting a two-phased (hypothesis generating/hypothesis testing) study with documented exposure to varying levels of Thimerosal from vaccinations.

Concepts: Immune system, Vaccine, Vaccination, Greek loanwords, Autism, Mercury, Toxicity, Autism spectrum


Background Each year, rotavirus gastroenteritis is responsible for about 37% of deaths from diarrhea among children younger than 5 years of age worldwide, with a disproportionate effect in sub-Saharan Africa. Methods We conducted a randomized, placebo-controlled trial in Niger to evaluate the efficacy of a live, oral bovine rotavirus pentavalent vaccine (BRV-PV, Serum Institute of India) to prevent severe rotavirus gastroenteritis. Healthy infants received three doses of the vaccine or placebo at 6, 10, and 14 weeks of age. Episodes of gastroenteritis were assessed through active and passive surveillance and were graded on the basis of the score on the Vesikari scale (which ranges from 0 to 20, with higher scores indicating more severe disease). The primary end point was the efficacy of three doses of vaccine as compared with placebo against a first episode of laboratory-confirmed severe rotavirus gastroenteritis (Vesikari score, ≥11) beginning 28 days after dose 3. Results Among the 3508 infants who were included in the per-protocol efficacy analysis, there were 31 cases of severe rotavirus gastroenteritis in the vaccine group and 87 cases in the placebo group (2.14 and 6.44 cases per 100 person-years, respectively), for a vaccine efficacy of 66.7% (95% confidence interval [CI], 49.9 to 77.9). Similar efficacy was seen in the intention-to-treat analyses, which showed a vaccine efficacy of 69.1% (95% CI, 55.0 to 78.7). There was no significant between-group difference in the risk of adverse events, which were reported in 68.7% of the infants in the vaccine group and in 67.2% of those in the placebo group, or in the risk of serious adverse events (in 8.3% in the vaccine group and in 9.1% in the placebo group); there were 27 deaths in the vaccine group and 22 in the placebo group. None of the infants had confirmed intussusception. Conclusions Three doses of BRV-PV, an oral rotavirus vaccine, had an efficacy of 66.7% against severe rotavirus gastroenteritis among infants in Niger. (Funded by Médecins sans Frontières Operational Center and the Kavli Foundation; number, NCT02145000 .).

Concepts: Clinical trial, Malaria, Vaccine, Rotavirus, Placebo, Pediatrics, Diarrhea, Rotavirus vaccine


Peter Hotez reflects on declining vaccination rates in Texas and the potential for future measles epidemics.

Concepts: Infectious disease, Vaccine, Measles


Public trust in immunization is an increasingly important global health issue. Losses in confidence in vaccines and immunization programmes can lead to vaccine reluctance and refusal, risking disease outbreaks and challenging immunization goals in high- and low-income settings. National and international immunization stakeholders have called for better monitoring of vaccine confidence to identify emerging concerns before they evolve into vaccine confidence crises.

Concepts: Immune system, Public health, Vaccine, Vaccination, Tuberculosis, Mercury, State


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder. Some anecdotal reports suggest that ASD is related to exposure to ethyl mercury, in the form of the vaccine preservative, thimerosal, and/or receiving the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine. Using infant rhesus macaques receiving thimerosal-containing vaccines (TCVs) following the recommended pediatric vaccine schedules from the 1990s and 2008, we examined behavior, and neuropathology in three brain regions found to exhibit neuropathology in postmortem ASD brains. No neuronal cellular or protein changes in the cerebellum, hippocampus, or amygdala were observed in animals following the 1990s or 2008 vaccine schedules. Analysis of social behavior in juvenile animals indicated that there were no significant differences in negative behaviors between animals in the control and experimental groups. These data indicate that administration of TCVs and/or the MMR vaccine to rhesus macaques does not result in neuropathological abnormalities, or aberrant behaviors, like those observed in ASD.

Concepts: Brain, Vaccine, Autism, Pediatrics, MMR vaccine, Measles, Rubella, Mumps


Since it emerged in Brazil in May 2015, the mosquito-borne Zika virus (ZIKV) has raised global concern due to its association with a significant rise in the number of infants born with microcephaly and neurological disorders such as Guillain-Barré syndrome. We developed prototype subunit and adenoviral-based Zika vaccines encoding the extracellular portion of the ZIKV envelope gene (E) fused to the T4 fibritin foldon trimerization domain (Efl). The subunit vaccine was delivered intradermally through carboxymethyl cellulose microneedle array (MNA). The immunogenicity of these two vaccines, named Ad5.ZIKV-Efl and ZIKV-rEfl, was tested in C57BL/6 mice. Prime/boost immunization regimen was associated with induction of a ZIKV-specific antibody response, which provided neutralizing immunity. Moreover, protection was evaluated in seven-day-old pups after virulent ZIKV intraperitoneal challenge. Pups born to mice immunized with Ad5.ZIKV-Efl were all protected against lethal challenge infection without weight loss or neurological signs, while pups born to dams immunized with MNA-ZIKV-rEfl were partially protected (50%). No protection was seen in pups born to phosphate buffered saline-immunized mice. This study illustrates the preliminary efficacy of the E ZIKV antigen vaccination in controlling ZIKV infectivity, providing a promising candidate vaccine and antigen format for the prevention of Zika virus disease.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, Protein, Vaccine, Vaccination, Immunology, Virology, Smallpox


We examined the introduction of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) and oral polio vaccine (OPV) in an urban community in Guinea-Bissau in the early 1980s.

Concepts: Vaccine, Poliomyelitis, Polio vaccine, Experiment, Introduction, Poliomyelitis eradication, OPV AIDS hypothesis