Proof of concept for rational design of hepatitis C virus E2 core nanoparticle vaccines

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Science Advances  15 Apr 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 16, eaaz6225
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz6225


Hepatitis C virus (HCV) envelope glycoproteins E1 and E2 are responsible for cell entry, with E2 being the major target of neutralizing antibodies (NAbs). Here, we present a comprehensive strategy for B cell–based HCV vaccine development through E2 optimization and nanoparticle display. We redesigned variable region 2 in a truncated form (tVR2) on E2 cores derived from genotypes 1a and 6a, resulting in improved stability and antigenicity. Crystal structures of three optimized E2 cores with human cross-genotype NAbs (AR3s) revealed how the modified tVR2 stabilizes E2 without altering key neutralizing epitopes. We then displayed these E2 cores on 24- and 60-meric nanoparticles and achieved substantial yield and purity, as well as enhanced antigenicity. In mice, these nanoparticles elicited more effective NAb responses than soluble E2 cores. Next-generation sequencing (NGS) defined distinct B cell patterns associated with nanoparticle-induced antibody responses, which target the conserved neutralizing epitopes on E2 and cross-neutralize HCV genotypes.

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