Assessing cross-reactivity of Junín virus-directed neutralizing antibodies
Arenaviruses cause several viral hemorrhagic fevers endemic to Africa and South America. The respective causative agents are classified as biosafety level (BSL) 4 pathogens. Unlike for most other BSL4 agents, for the New World arenavirus Junín virus (JUNV) both a highly effective vaccination (Candid#1) and a post-exposure treatment, based on convalescent plasma transfer, are available. In particular, neutralizing antibodies (nAbs) represent a key protective determinant in JUNV infection, which is supported by the correlation between successful passive antibody therapy and the levels of nAbs administered. Unfortunately, comparable resources for the management of other closely related arenavirus infections are not available. Given the significant challenges inherent in studying BSL4 pathogens, our goal was to first assess the suitability of a JUNV transcription and replication-competent virus-like particle (trVLP) system for measuring virus neutralization under BSL1/2 conditions. Indeed, we could show that infection with JUNV trVLPs is glycoprotein (GP) dependent, that trVLP input has a direct correlation to reporter readout, and that these trVLPs can be neutralized by human serum with kinetics similar to those obtained using authentic virus. These properties make trVLPs suitable for use as a proxy for virus in neutralization assays. Using this platform we then evaluated the potential of JUNV nAbs to cross-neutralize entry mediated by GPs from other arenaviruses using JUNV (strain Romero)-based trVLPs bearing GPs either from other JUNV strains, other closely related New World arenaviruses (e.g. Tacaribe, Machupo, Sabiá), or the distantly related Lassa virus. While nAbs against the JUNV vaccine strain are also active against a range of other JUNV strains, they appear to have little or no capacity to neutralize other arenavirus species, suggesting that therapy with whole plasma directed against another species is unlikely to be successful and that the targeted development of cross-specific monoclonal antibody-based resources is likely needed. Such efforts will be supported by the availability of this BSL1/2 screening platform which provides a rapid and easy means to characterize the potency and reactivity of anti-arenavirus neutralizing antibodies against a range of arenavirus species.