Background & aims: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a leading cause of chronic hepatitis in the world. Successful vaccine development is crucial in controlling global HCV infection. We have previously described the generation of HCV-like particles (HCV-LPs) in insect cells using a recombinant baculovirus containing the complementary DNA of the HCV structural proteins. These HCV-LPs had similar morphological and biophysical properties as the putative virions. In this study, we analyzed the structural features, antigenic composition, seroreactivity, and immunogenicity of purified HCV-LPs.
Methods: HCV-LPs were analyzed by electron microscopy and antibody immunolabeling and precipitation. An enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) using HCV-LPs was developed. The humoral response to HCV-LPs in mice was studies by core and envelope ELISAs, Western immunoblotting, and immunofluorescence.
Results: Structural and antigenic compositions of HCV-LPs were shown to be similar to those of putative HCV virions. Using the HCV-LP ELISA, high-titer anti-HCV antibodies were detected in individuals infected with various HCV genotypes. In vivo, HCV-LPs elicited a humoral response broadly directed against HCV structural proteins.
Conclusions: HCV-LPs resemble HCV virions and are capable of inducing a humoral response targeted against various regions of HCV structural proteins, suggesting that HCV-LPs may be promising as a potential vaccine candidate.