James J. Bull, Scott L. Nuismer, Rustom Antia
PLOS Computational Biology
July 19, 2019
Replicating recombinant vector vaccines consist of a fully competent viral vector backbone engineered to express an antigen from a foreign transgene. From the perspective of viral replication, the transgene is not only dispensable but may even be detrimental. Thus vaccine revertants that delete or inactivate the transgene may evolve to dominate the vaccine virus population both during the process of manufacture of the vaccine as well as during the course of host infection. A particular concern is that this vaccine evolution could reduce its antigenicity—the immunity elicited to the transgene. We use mathematical and computational models to study vaccine evolution and immunity. These models include evolution arising during the process of manufacture, the dynamics of vaccine and revertant growth, plus innate and adaptive immunity elicited during the course of infection. Although the selective basis of vaccine evolution is easy to comprehend, the immunological consequences are not. One complication is that the opportunity for vaccine evolution is limited by the short period of within-host growth before the viral population is cleared. Even less obvious, revertant growth may only weakly interfere with vaccine growth in the host and thus have a limited effect on immunity to vaccine. Overall, we find that within-host vaccine evolution can sometimes compromise vaccine immunity, but only when the extent of evolution during vaccine manufacture is severe, and this evolution can be easily avoided or mitigated.