Generation and preliminary characterization of vertebrate-specific replication-defective Zika virus

Shengfeng Wan, Shengbo Cao, Xugang Wang, Yanfei Zhou, Weidong Yan, Xinbin Gu, Tzyy Choou Wu, Xiaowu Pang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Zika virus (ZIKV) is a mosquito-borne flavivirus that replicates in both vertebrate and insect cells, whereas insect-specific flaviviruses (ISF) replicate only in insect cells. We sought to convert ZIKV, from a dual-tropic flavivirus, into an insect-specific virus for the eventual development of a safe ZIKV vaccine. Reverse genetics was used to introduce specific mutations into the furin cleavage motif within the ZIKV pre-membrane protein (prM). Mutant clones were selected, which replicated well in C6/36 insect cells but exhibited reduced replication in non-human primate (Vero) cells. Further characterization of the furin cleavage site mutants indicated they replicated poorly in both human (HeLa, U251), and baby hamster kidney (BHK-21) cells. One clone with the induced mutation in the prM protein and at positions 291and 452 within the NS3 protein was totally and stably replication-defective in vertebrate cells (VSRD-ZIKV). Preliminary studies in ZIKV sensitive, immunodeficient mice demonstrated that VSRD-ZIKV-infected mice survived and were virus-negative. Our study indicates that a reverse genetic approach targeting the furin cleavage site in prM can be used to select an insect-specific ZIKV with the potential utility as a vaccine strain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-82
Number of pages10
StatePublished - Jan 2 2021


  • Furin
  • Vaccine
  • Vertebrate-specific replication-defective
  • Viral tropism
  • Zika virus
  • prM cleavage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Virology


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