Cryo-transmission electron microscopy (cryoTEM) is a powerful characterization method for assessing the structural properties of biopharmaceutical nanoparticles, including Virus Like Particle-based vaccines. We demonstrate the method using the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) VLPs in GARDASIL®. CryoTEM, coupled to automated data collection and analysis, was used to acquire images of the particles in their hydrated state, determine their morphological characteristics, and confirm the integrity of the particles when absorbed to aluminum adjuvant. In addition, we determined the three-dimensional structure of the VLPs, both alone and when interacting with neutralizing antibodies. Two modes of binding of two different neutralizing antibodies were apparent; for HPV type 11 saturated with H11.B2, 72 potential Fab binding sites were observed at the center of each capsomer, whereas for HPV 16 interacting with H16.V5, it appears that 60 pentamers (each neighboring 6 other pentamers) bind five Fabs per pentamer, for the total of 300 potential Fab binding sites per VLP.
Keywords: CryoTEM; Gardasil; VLP; adjuvant; aluminum; epitope; structure.