DNA vaccines are stable, safe, and cost effective to produce and relatively quick and easy to manufacture. However, to date, DNA vaccines have shown relatively poor immunogenicity in humans despite promising preclinical results. Consequently, a number of different approaches have been investigated to improve the immunogenicity of DNA vaccines. These include the use of improved delivery methods, adjuvants, stronger promoters and enhancer elements to increase antigen expression, and codon optimization of the gene of interest. This review describes the creation and use of a DNA vaccine vector containing a porcine circovirus (PCV-1) enhancer element that significantly increases recombinant antigen expression and immunogenicity and allows for dose sparing. A 172 bp region containing the PCV-1 capsid protein promoter (Pcap) and a smaller element (PC; 70 bp) within this were found to be equally effective. DNA vaccines containing the Pcap region expressing various HIV-1 antigens were found to be highly immunogenic in mice, rabbits, and macaques at 4–10-fold lower doses than normally used and to be highly effective in heterologous prime-boost regimens. By lowering the amount of DNA used for immunization, safety concerns over injecting large amounts of DNA into humans can be overcome.
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