The hypervariable region 1 (HVR1) of the E2 protein of hepatitis C virus (HCV) is highly heterogeneous in its primary sequence and is responsible for significant inter- and intra-individual variation of the infecting virus, which may represent an important pathogenetic mechanism leading to immune escape and persistent infection. A binding site for neutralizing antibodies (Ab) has also been allegedly identified in this region. Prospective studies of serological responses to synthetic oligopeptides derived from naturally-occurring HVR1 sequences showed promiscuous recognition of HVR1 variants in most patients via binding to C-terminal amino acid residues with conserved physicochemical properties. Monoclonal antibodies generated by immunization of mice with peptides derived from natural HVR1 sequences were shown to recognize several HVR1 variants in line with evidence gathered from studies using human sera. In addition, selected mAbs were able to bind HVR1 in the context of a complete soluble form of the E2 glycoprotein, indicating recognition of correctly folded sequences, and were shown to specifically capture circulating and recombinant HCV particles, suggesting that HVR1 is expressed on intact virus particles and therefore potentially able to interact with cellular receptor(s). These findings suggest that it is possible to induce a broadly reactive clonal immune response to multiple HCV variants and that this mechanism could be used in principle to induce protective immunity for a large repertoire of HCV variants.
Volume 47, 2022
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