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An overview of spike protein antigen COVID-19 vaccine candidates

The coronavirus illness 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic brought on by the extreme acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) continues to be inflicting immense devastation worldwide. Management methods are sometimes restricted by the necessity for private compliance. Within the absence of efficient therapeutic methods, vaccines are perceived to be the one method out.

A brand new paper within the journal Reviews in Medical Virology supplies a perspective on present vaccine improvement methods and instruments, which can permit the manufacturing of protected and efficient vaccines.

An overview of spike protein antigen COVID-19 vaccine candidates

The spike protein

The SARS-CoV-2 virus enters the goal host cell by the use of its spike glycoprotein. This floor protein consists of two subunits, the S1 and the S2.  The S1 mediated viral attachment to the host cell receptor, the angiotensin‐changing enzyme 2 (ACE2), whereas the S2 follows this up by viral-membrane fusion, permitting internalization of the virus.

The spike is a serious focus of neutralizing antibodies and subsequently of vaccine improvement efforts. The S1 subunit makes contact with the receptor by way of its receptor-binding area (RBD). In comparison with the sooner SARS-CoV, the RBD within the at the moment circulating virus binds with 10-20-fold larger efficacy. This will likely account for its larger unfold, together with the novel polybasic furin cleavage website on the S1/S2 interface.

The metastable conformation of the prefusion spike happens following S1-ACE2 binding, able to switching between the ‘up’ and ‘down’ conformation, through which the protein is accessible and inaccessible to the receptor, respectively. The partially ‘up’ state seems to be the norm in extremely pathogenic coronaviruses (CoVs), in distinction to the largely ‘down’ state within the human seasonal CoVs.

Glycosylation is a important practical function of the SARS-CoV-2 spike, each facilitating its correct folding and immune escape by stopping particular neutralizing epitopes from being certain by their antibodies. Some can masks the RBD as properly, particularly if the RBD is within the ‘down’ conformation.

The spike protein, notably the RBD, is subsequently the principle antigenic goal for vaccine formulation.

The spike additionally prompts CD4 and CD8 T cells from anyplace past 70% of COVID-19 sufferers. T cell responses are usually not solely cross-reactive however can induce long-term safety. These cells have specificity in opposition to the virus, and excessive cytotoxicity, in acute SARS-CoV-2 an infection.

The CD4-associated responses induce robust IgA and IgG antibody manufacturing. The T cell responses are strongly related to neutralizing antibody titers. The robust Th1 bias seen with these mobile responses makes antibody-mediated enhancement of illness unlikely.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus enters the target host cell by means of its spike glycoprotein. Image Credit: Juan Gaertner / Shutterstock

The SARS-CoV-2 virus enters the goal host cell by the use of its spike glycoprotein. Picture Credit score: Juan Gaertner / Shutterstock

Vaccine improvement platforms

Earlier vaccines in opposition to the SARS-CoV had been primarily based on entire inactivated or attenuated virus. These had been related to antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE) of illness, or exaggerated immune responses.

To keep away from this with vaccines constructed across the new virus, second- and third-generation vaccines use solely viral antigens, particularly the spike antigen. These use platforms like viral vectors, each replication-competent and replication-incompetent, DNA and RNA.

Different approaches make use of recombinant proteins and virus-like particles (VLPs) formulated in nanoparticles primarily based on lipids (LNPs) or on polymers that encapsulate the nucleic acid.  These formulations might make use of adjuvants primarily based on aluminum or saponin, in addition to some compounds that use Toll‐like receptor (TLR) agonists.

Segments of the spike have usually been most popular for vaccine improvement as a result of prevalence of ADE in animal fashions following vaccination with SARS-CoV vaccines expressing fusogenic spike protein.

Full-length spike vaccines

A number of vaccines that incorporate the full-length spike embrace the Oxford/Astra-Zeneca adenovirus vector vaccine (ChAdOx1 nCoV‐19), Ad5 vector, the LNP- encapsulated mRNA vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech (BNT162b2) and Moderna (mRNA‐1273), and the Novavax vaccine that makes use of the recombinant spike protein (NVX‐CoV2373).

RBD-based vaccines

The presence of B cell epitopes on the RBD that may elicit neutralizing antibodies, and the robust safety conferred by human IgGs in opposition to the RBD, led to the event of vaccines primarily based on the RBD. When RBD-encoding mRNA is used, it’s usually modified in varied methods to boost its immunogenicity and enhance the interpretation to RBD protein.

Different platforms used for RBD-based neutralization embrace the protein subunit itself, plasmid DNA, and VLP vaccines, apart from a replication-competent influenza vector vaccine. These could also be each efficient and keep away from the chance of ADE.

NTD-based vaccines

The N-terminal area (NTD) of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine has been proven to behave as an RBD, mediated by binding to glycosylation websites. Although this isn’t as immunogenic because the full-length spike, the S1 subunit and the RBD, it’s nonetheless able to eliciting antibodies that bind particular entry receptors. This has fueled curiosity within the potential of NTD-based vaccines to counter COVID-19.

S1-based vaccines

The S1 subunit has a singular benefit as a possible vaccine candidate, in that each the RBD and the NTD are situated on this subunit. It’s strongly immunogenic and induces neutralizing antibodies. Candidate vaccines utilizing the S1 subunit embrace one utilizing a microneedle array utilizing recombinant S1-Fc fusion protein (Fc being an immunoglobulin element), and one primarily based on a recombinant inactivated rabies virus platform.


The significance of the spike protein in viral entry and an infection of the host cell, coupled with the various epitopes it incorporates for each B and T cells, has led to its being handled as a major antigen for vaccine improvement. The vaccines being at the moment rolled out in lots of nations are primarily based on the full-length spike protein.

The event of ADE in some volunteers has precipitated researchers to discover different antigens or segments of this antigen in novel formulations. LNP-mRNA and protein subunit vaccines at the moment are in late scientific trials, and have proven them to be able to eliciting highly effective neutralizing antibodies and mobile responses.

S1, S2 and NTD-based vaccines may additionally enter scientific trials within the close to future, permitting entry to a spread of protected and efficient vaccines that will assist to comprise this modern-day scourge.

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