Codon optimization and mRNA amplification effectively enhances the immunogenicity of the hepatitis C virus nonstructural 3/4A gene

Gene Ther. 2004 Mar;11(6):522-33. doi: 10.1038/


We have recently shown that the NS3-based genetic immunogens should contain also hepatitis C virus (HCV) nonstructural (NS) 4A to utilize fully the immunogenicity of NS3. The next step was to try to enhance immunogenicity by modifying translation or mRNA synthesis. To enhance translation efficiency, a synthetic NS3/4A-based DNA (coNS3/4A-DNA) vaccine was generated in which the codon usage was optimized (co) for human cells. In a second approach, expression of the wild-type (wt) NS3/4A gene was enhanced by mRNA amplification using the Semliki forest virus (SFV) replicon (wtNS3/4A-SFV). Transient tranfections of human HepG2 cells showed that the coNS3/4A gene gave 11-fold higher levels of NS3 as compared to the wtNS3/4A gene when using the CMV promoter. We have previously shown that the presence of NS4A enhances the expression by SFV. Both codon optimization and mRNA amplification resulted in an improved immunogenicity as evidenced by higher levels of NS3-specific antibodies. This improved immunogenicity also resulted in a more rapid priming of cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs). Since HCV is a noncytolytic virus, the functionality of the primed CTL responses was evaluated by an in vivo challenge with NS3/4A-expressing syngeneic tumor cells. The priming of a tumor protective immunity required an endogenous production of the immunogen and CD8+ CTLs, but was independent of B and CD4+ T cells. This model confirmed the more rapid in vivo activation of an NS3/4A-specific tumor-inhibiting immunity by codon optimization and mRNA amplification. Finally, therapeutic vaccination with the coNS3/4A gene using gene gun 6-12 days after injection of tumors significantly reduced the tumor growth in vivo. Codon optimization and mRNA amplification effectively enhances the overall immunogenicity of NS3/4A. Thus, either, or both, of these approaches should be utilized in an NS3/4A-based HCV genetic vaccine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood
  • Codon*
  • Cricetinae
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Gene Amplification
  • Genetic Engineering / methods
  • Hepacivirus / genetics*
  • Hepacivirus / immunology
  • Hepatitis C / immunology
  • Hepatitis C / prevention & control*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Models, Animal
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / immunology
  • Vaccines, DNA / genetics*
  • Vaccines, DNA / immunology
  • Viral Hepatitis Vaccines / genetics*
  • Viral Hepatitis Vaccines / immunology


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Codon
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Vaccines, DNA
  • Viral Hepatitis Vaccines