In a new study from Northwestern Medicine, researchers took one of the current COVID-19 vaccines, which is based on the novel coronavirus’s infamous spike protein, and added a different antigen, the nucleocapsid protein, to form a new, potentially improved version of the COVID vaccine.
The nucleocapsid protein, which is an internal RNA-binding protein, may help kick the immune system into high gear much more quickly than the spike protein is capable of since it is among the most rapidly and highly expressed proteins in coronaviruses.
The team found the combination vaccine improved protection against breakthrough infections in mice.
The well-known coronavirus spike protein is located outside the virus, whereas the nucleocapsid protein is present inside the virus.
The nucleocapsid protein is one of the most rapidly and abundantly expressed proteins, making it the perfect target for early detection by the T cell response.
Another advantage of incorporating nucleocapsid in next-generation COVID vaccines is that this protein is more conserved (or similar) among SARS-CoV-2 variants and even among other coronaviruses.
In the study, the team immunized mice with vaccines made from just the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, just the nucleocapsid protein or both proteins combined.
After several weeks, the researchers exposed the mice via their noses with SARS-CoV-2 and measured viral loads in the mice’s respiratory systems 72 hours after exposure to capture a breakthrough infection.
The results could be the basis for developing more effective vaccines not only in terms of preventing, but also clearing breakthrough infections.
The team hopes the new combination vaccine may better protect the brain from developing neurological symptoms if a breakthrough infection occurs.
If you care about COVID-19 vaccines, please read studies about a single dose of the Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine may not be enough to reliably ward off infection and findings of this ‘warm vaccine’ may effectively fight all COVID-19 variants.
For more information about COVID vaccines and your health, please see recent studies about a new inhaled COVID-19 vaccine may prevent disease and transmission and results showing that COVID-19 vaccine protection is lower and slower in people with this health problem.
The study is published in Cell Reports. One author of the study is Pablo Penaloza-MacMaster.
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