The role of antibody in hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection remains unclear although many reports attest to its role in viral clearance. Here we describe epitopes that are recognized by antibody present in the serum of infected patients and show that such epitopes can induce neutralizing antibodies.
Human serum containing hyperimmune anti-HCV IgG was used to extract epitopes from a library of synthetic peptides that encompassed the sequences of the E1 and E2 proteins of HCV genotype 1a H77. Peptides that were bound by IgG were identified by mass spectrometry. Assembly of these epitopes with a helper T cell determinant was then carried out in order to construct candidate epitope-based vaccines.
Three distinct antigenic sites were defined in the E1E2 glycoproteins by epitopes identified by antibody present in infected individuals. Four of the peptide epitopes identified are conserved in at least three HCV genotypes and are bound by antibody present in the sera of chronically infected and convalescent individuals. Synthetic vaccines based on these epitopes elicited antibodies that are capable of (i) capturing HCV virions from the serum of viraemic patients and (ii) inhibiting HCV pseudovirus particle entry into Huh7 cells.
This approach exploits the information inherent in the binding sites of virus-specific antibodies and represents a novel method for the design of synthetic epitope-based vaccines.