The envelope glycoprotein E2 of hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a major component of the viral envelope. Knowledge of its topologic features and antigenic determinants in virions is crucial in understanding the viral binding sites to cellular receptor(s) and the induction of neutralizing antibodies. The lack of a robust cell culture system for virus propagation has hampered the characterization of E2 presented on the virion. Here we report the structural features of hepatitis C virus-like particles (HCV-LPs) of the 1a and 1b genotypes as determined by various mouse and human monoclonal anti-envelope antibodies. Our results show that the E2 protein of HCV-LPs reacts with human monoclonal antibodies recognizing conformational determinants. Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) specific for the hypervariable region 1 (HVR-1) sequence reacted strongly with HCV-LPs, suggesting that the HVR-1 is exposed on the viral surface. Several mAbs recognized both HCV-LPs with equally high affinity, indicating that the corresponding epitopes [amino acids (aa) 192-217 of E1 and aa 412-423, aa 522-531, and aa 640-653 of E2] are conserved in both genotypes and exposed on the surface of the HCV-LP. The E2 and E1/E2 dimers of 1a bound strongly to the recombinant large extracellular loop (LEL) of CD81 (CD81-LEL) of human and African green monkey, while the HCV-LP of 1a bound weakly to human CD81-LEL. E1/E2 dimers and the HCV-LPs of 1b did not bind CD81-LEL, consistent with the notion that CD81 recognition by E2 is strain-specific and does not correlate with permissiveness of infection. A model of the topology and exposed antigenic determinants of the envelope proteins of HCV is proposed.
(c) 2002 Elsevier Science (USA).