The EMBO journal

Towards a solution for hepatitis C virus hypervariability: mimotopes of the hypervariable region 1 can induce antibodies cross-reacting with a large number of viral variants.

PMID 9649423


The hypervariable region 1 (HVR1) of the putative envelope protein E2 of hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the most variable antigenic fragment in the whole viral genome and is mainly responsible for the large inter-and intra-individual heterogeneity of the infecting virus. It contains a principal neutralization epitope and has been proposed as the major player in the mechanism of escape from host immune response. Since anti-HVR1 antibodies are the only species shown to possess protective activity up to date, developing an effective prevention therapy is a very difficult task. We have approached the problem of HVR1 variability by deriving a consensus profile from >200 HVR1 sequences from different viral isolates and used it as a template to generate a vast repertoire of synthetic HVR1 surrogates displayed on M13 bacteriophage. This library was affinity selected using many different sera from infected patients. Phages were identified which react very frequently with patients' sera and bind serum antibodies that cross-react with a large panel of HVR1 peptides derived from natural HCV variants. When injected into experimental animals, the 'mimotopes' with the highest cross-reactivity induced antibodies which recognized the same panel of natural HVR1 variants. In these mimotopes we identified a sequence pattern responsible for the observed cross-reactivity. These data may hold the key for future development of a prophylactic vaccine against HCV.