Effect of Fc Fusion on Folding and Immunogenicity of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Spike Protein.J Microbiol Biotechnol. 2019 May 28; 29(5):813-819.JM
Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) induces severe respiratory impairment with a reported mortality rate of ~36% in humans. The absence of clinically available MERS-CoV vaccines and treatments to date has resulted in uncontrolled incidence and propagation of the virus. In vaccine design, fusion with the IgG Fc domain is reported to increase the immunogenicity of various vaccine antigens. However, limited reports have documented the potential negative effects of Fc fusion on vaccine antigens. To determine whether Fc fusion affects the immunogenicity of MERS-CoV antigen, we constructed a Fcassociated MERS-CoV spike protein (eS770-Fc, 110 kDa), whereby human IgG4 Fc domain was fused to MERS-CoV spike protein (eS770) via a Gly/Pro linker using baculovirus as the expression system. For comparative analyses, two eS770 proteins lacking the IgG4 Fc domain were generated using the IdeS protease (eS770-ΔFc) or His tag attachment (eS770-His) and the immunogenicity of the above constructs were examined following intramuscular immunization in mice. Contrary to expectations, non-Fc spike proteins (eS770-ΔFc, eS770-His; 90 kDa) showed higher immunogenicity than the Fc fusion protein (eS770-Fc). Moreover, unlike non- Fc spike proteins, eS770-Fc immunization did not elicit neutralizing antibodies against MERSCoV. The lower immunogenicity of Fc-fused eS770 was related to alterations in the structural conformation of the spike protein. Taken together, our results indicate that IgG Fc fusion reduces the immunogenicity of eS770 by interfering with the proper folding structure.