The present work aimed at 1) characterization of the E1 and E2 proteins (HCV-E) from an Egyptian hepatitis C virus genotype 4a (HCV-4a) isolate at the molecular and immunological level, 2) in silico identification of the B- and T-cell epitopes responsible for the immunogenicity of HCV-E, and 3) evaluation of the diagnostic potential of both the recombinant HCV-E and antibodies raised using mammalian expression constructs encoding the protein. The region encoding the E1 and E2 proteins was amplified by RT-PCR from RNA isolated from blood of a human infected with HCV-4 and cloned into the pSC-TA plasmid, and the sequence was verified and used to construct a neighbor-joining phylogenetic tree. The translated nucleotide sequence was used to predict the HCV-E secondary structure using the PREDICT-PROTEIN server and PSI-PRED. A 3D model of HCV-E was generated using the online tool 3Dpro. B- and T-cell epitopes were predicted using the online tools BCPred and Epijen v1.0, respectively. The HCV-E-encoding sequence was later subcloned into the mammalian expression plasmid pQE, and the constructs that were generated were used to immunize mice in the absence and presence of adjuvants of plant origin. The maximum sequence identity obtained by nucleotide and protein BLAST analysis with previously published HCV-E sequences was 85 and 77 %, respectively. The B-cell epitope CFTPSPVVV at position 203 and the T-cell epitope ALSTGLIHL at position 380 were found to be highly conserved among all HCV genotypes. Both ELISA and Western blotting experiments on crude and purified recombinant HCV envelope proteins using mouse antisera raised using the HCV-E mammalian expression construct confirmed the specific antigenicity of the expressed protein. The antibodies raised in mice using the HCV-E-encoding construct could efficiently capture circulating antigens in patients’ sera with good sensitivity that correlated with liver enzyme levels (r = 0.4052, P < 0.0001 for ALT; r = −0.5439, P = 0.0019 for AST). Moreover, combining the HCV-E-encoding construct with extracts prepared from Echinacea purpurea and Nigella sativa prior to immunizing mice significantly (P < 0.05) increased both the humoral (14.9- to 20-fold increase in antibodies) and the cellular (CD4 + and cytotoxic CD8 + - T lymphocytes) responses compared to mice that received the DNA construct alone or PBS-treated mice. Both recombinant HCV-E protein preparations and antibodies raised using the HCV-E-encoding mammalian expression construct represent useful diagnostic tools that can report on active HCV infection. Also, the immunostimulatory effects induced by the two plant extracts used at the cellular and humoral level highlight the potential of natural products for inducing protection against HCV infection. The neutralizing capacity of the induced antibodies is a subject of future investigations. Furthermore, the predicted B- and T-cell epitopes may be useful for tailoring future diagnostics and candidate vaccines against various HCV genotypes.
Archives of Virology – Springer Journals
Published: Apr 1, 2015
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