Linling He, Netanel Tzarum, Xiaohe Lin, Benjamin Shapero, Cindy Sou, Colin J. Mann, Armando Stano, Lei Zhang, Kenna Nagy, Erick Giang, Mansun Law, Ian A Wilson, and Jiang Zhu
Science Advances 15 April 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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