Hepatitis C Virus E1 and E2 Proteins Used as Separate Immunogens Induce Neutralizing Antibodies with Additive Properties.

Various strategies involving the use of hepatitis C virus (HCV) E1 and E2 envelope glycoproteins as immunogens have been developed for prophylactic vaccination against HCV. However, the ideal mode of processing and presenting these immunogens for effective vaccination has yet to be determined. We used our recently described vaccine candidate based on full-length HCV E1 or E2 glycoproteins fused to the heterologous hepatitis B virus S envelope protein to compare the use of the E1 and E2 proteins as separate immunogens with their use as the E1E2 heterodimer, in terms of immunogenetic potential and the capacity to induce neutralizing antibodies. The specific anti-E1 and anti-E2 antibody responses induced in animals immunized with vaccine particles harboring the heterodimer were profoundly impaired with respect to those in animals immunized with particles harboring E1 and E2 separately. Moreover, the anti-E1 and anti-E2 antibodies had additive neutralizing properties that increase the cross-neutralization of heterologous strains of various HCV genotypes, highlighting the importance of including both E1 and E2 in the vaccine for an effective vaccination strategy. Our study has important implications for the optimization of HCV vaccination strategies based on HCV envelope proteins, regardless of the platform used to present these proteins to the immune system.

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