The National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) began immunocontraception vaccine research by testing porcine zona pellucida (PZP) on white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Early PZP research demonstrated that PZP induced infertility; however, increased length of the rut was observed in PZP-treated deer. An alternative vaccine using a keyhole limpet hemocyanin-gonadotropin-releasing hormone (KLH-GnRH) conjugate formulated with modified Freund's adjuvant was developed at NWRC. Suppression of GnRH has reduced reproduction in both sexes but is most effective in females. This vaccine was effective in preventing contraception in female deer for several years after a prime and boost. Due to adverse side effects of Freund's adjuvant, NWRC developed a new adjuvant called AdjuVac, a mineral oil/surfactant adjuvant with the addition of Mycobacterium avium as an immunostimulant. The price of KLH prompted a search for a more economical hemocyanin carrier protein for the GnRH peptide. Blue protein, derived from the mollusk Concholepas concholepas, proved to be a successful option. Formulation improvements resulted in a vaccine that can be effective as a single injection for multiple years, now called GonaCon. GonaCon is registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use in white-tailed deer in urban/suburban areas and for wild horses (Equus caballus) and burros (Equus asinus). Future GonaCon applications may include reducing reproduction to manage populations of other wildlife species, such as prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) in urban areas and suppressing reproduction to reduce the spread of venereal diseases such as brucellosis. Research is being conducted to develop a GnRH vaccine used in combination with the rabies vaccine to control population growth in free-roaming dogs, with the secondary effect of managing the spread of rabies. The EPA would regulate all these uses. Research is also ongoing on a GnRH vaccine to delay the onset of adrenocortical disease in pet ferrets (Mustela putorius), a use regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture.
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