Food for Health


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Pierce BG, Boucher EN, Piepenbrink KH, Ejemel M, Rapp CA, Thomas WD, Jr, Sundberg EJ, Weng Z, Wang Y. 2017. Structure based design of hepatitis C virus vaccines that elicit neutralizing antibody responses to a conserved epitope. J Virol 91:e01032-17.


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Despite recent advances in therapeutic options, hepatitis C virus (HCV) remains a severe global disease burden, and a vaccine can substantially reduce its incidence. Due to its extremely high sequence variability, HCV can readily escape the immune response; thus, an effective vaccine must target conserved, functionally important epitopes. Using the structure of a broadly neutralizing antibody in complex with a conserved linear epitope from the HCV E2 envelope glycoprotein (residues 412 to 423; epitope I), we performed structure-based design of immunogens to induce antibody responses to this epitope. This resulted in epitope-based immunogens based on a cyclic defensin protein, as well as a bivalent immunogen with two copies of the epitope on the E2 surface. We solved the X-ray structure of a cyclic immunogen in complex with the HCV1 antibody and confirmed preservation of the epitope conformation and the HCV1 interface. Mice vaccinated with our designed immunogens produced robust antibody responses to epitope I, and their serum could neutralize HCV. Notably, the cyclic designs induced greater epitope-specific responses and neutralization than the native peptide epitope. Beyond successfully designing several novel HCV immunogens, this study demonstrates the principle that neutralizing anti-HCV antibodies can be induced by epitope-based, engineered vaccines and provides the basis for further efforts in structure-based design of HCV vaccines