The development of a prophylactic vaccine against hepatitis C virus (HCV) has become an important medical priority, because 3-4 million new HCV infections are thought to occur each year worldwide. Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is another major human pathogen, but infections with this virus can be prevented with a safe, efficient vaccine, based on the remarkable ability of the envelope protein (S) of this virus to self-assemble into highly immunogenic subviral particles. Chimeric HBV-HCV envelope proteins in which the N-terminal transmembrane domain of S was replaced with the transmembrane domain of the HCV envelope proteins (E1 or E2) were efficiently coassembled with the wild-type HBV S protein into subviral particles. These chimeric particles presented the full-length E1 and E2 proteins from a genotype 1a virus in an appropriate conformation for formation of the E1-E2 heterodimer. Produced in stably transduced Chinese hamster ovary cells and used to immunize New Zealand rabbits, these particles induced a strong specific antibody (Ab) response against the HCV and HBV envelope proteins in immunized animals. Sera containing anti-E1 or anti-E2 Abs elicited by these particles neutralized infections with HCV pseudoparticles and cell-cultured viruses derived from different heterologous 1a, 1b, 2a, and 3 strains. Moreover, the anti-hepatitis B surface response induced by these chimeric particles was equivalent to the response induced by a commercial HBV vaccine.
Our results provide support for approaches based on the development of bivalent HBV-HCV prophylactic vaccine candidates potentially able to prevent initial infection with either of these two hepatotropic viruses.
Copyright © 2012 American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.