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Vaccines against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) have been proven to be an effective means of decreasing COVID-19 mortality, hospitalization rates, and transmission. One of the vaccines deployed worldwide is ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, which uses an adenovirus vector to drive the expression of the original SARS-CoV-2 spike on the surface of transduced cells. Using cryo-electron tomography and subtomogram averaging, we determined the native structures of the vaccine product expressed on cell surfaces in situ. We show that ChAdOx1-vectored vaccines expressing the Beta SARS-CoV-2 variant produce abundant native prefusion spikes predominantly in one-RBD-up conformation. Furthermore, the ChAdOx1-vectored HexaPro-stabilized spike yields higher cell surface expression, enhanced RBD exposure, and reduced shedding of S1 compared to the wild type. We demonstrate in situ structure determination as a powerful means for studying antigen design options in future vaccine development against emerging novel SARS-CoV-2 variants and broadly against other infectious viruses.

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Cell biology, Virology