Background/aims: Vaccination strategies able to induce strong T-cell responses might contribute to eradicate hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. We previously demonstrated that fusion of an antigen to the extra domain A from fibronectin (EDA) targets the antigen to TLR4-expressing dendritic cells (DC) and improves its immunogenicity. Here, we studied if fusion of EDA with the non-structural HCV protein NS3 might constitute an effective immunogen against HCV.
Methods: Recombinant NS3 and the fusion protein EDA-NS3 were produced and purified from E. coli, and tested in vitro for their capacity to activate maturation of DC and to favour antigen presentation. HHD transgenic mice expressing the human HLA-A2 molecule were immunized with recombinant proteins in the absence or presence of poly(I:C) and anti-CD40 agonistic antibodies and responses elicited by vaccination were tested in vitro, and in vivo, by their capacity to downregulate intrahepatic expression of HCV-NS3 RNA.
Results: EDA-NS3, but not NS3 alone, upregulated the expression of maturation markers, as well as Delta-like 1 and Delta-like 4 Notch ligands in DC and induced the production of IL-12. Mice immunized with EDA-NS3 had strong and long lasting NS3-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T-cell responses and, in combination with poly(I:C) and anti-CD40, downregulated intrahepatic expression of HCV-NS3 RNA.
Conclusions: Recombinant EDA-NS3 may be considered for the development of vaccines against HCV infection.