Live attenuated vaccine (LAV), mimicking natural infection, provides an excellent protection against microbial infection. The development of LAV, however, still remains highly empirical and the rational design of clinically useful LAV is scarcely available. Apoptosis and caspase activation are general host antiviral responses in virus-infected cells. Utilizing these tightly regulated host defense mechanisms, we present a novel apoptosis-triggered attenuation of viral virulence as a rational design of live attenuated vaccine with desired levels of safety, efficacy, and productivity. Mutant influenza viruses carrying caspase recognition motifs in viral NP and the interferon-antagonist NS1 proteins were highly attenuated both in vitro and in vivo by caspase-mediated cleavage of those proteins in infected cells. Both viral replication and interferon-resistance were substantially reduced, resulting in a marked attenuation of virulence of the virus. Despite pronounced attenuation, the viruses demonstrated high growth phenotype in embryonated eggs at lower temperature, ensuring its productivity. A single dose vaccination with the mutant virus elicited high levels of systemic and mucosal antibody responses and provided complete protection against both homologous and heterologous lethal challenges in mouse model. While providing a practical means to generate seasonal or pandemic influenza live vaccines, the sensitization of viral proteins to pathogen-triggered apoptotic signals presents a potentially universal, mechanism-based rational design of live vaccines against many viral infections.
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