H56/AERAS-456+IC31 (H56), composed of two early secretion proteins, Ag85B and ESAT-6, and a latency associated protein, Rv2660, and the IC31 Intercell adjuvant, is a new fusion subunit vaccine candidate designed to induce immunity against both new infection and reactivation of latent tuberculosis infection. Efficacy of subunit vaccines may be affected by the diversity of vaccine antigens among clinical strains and the extent of recognition by the diverse HLA molecules in the recipient population. Although a previous study showed the conservative nature of Ag85B- and ESAT-6-encoding genes, genetic diversity of Rv2660c that encodes RV2660 is largely unknown. The population coverage of H56 as a whole yet remains to be assessed. The present study was conducted to address these important knowledge gaps. DNA sequence analysis of Rv2660c found no variation among 83 of the 84 investigated clinical strains belonging to four genetic lineages. H56 was predicted to have as high as 99.6% population coverage in the South Africa population using the Immune Epitope Database (IEDB) Population Coverage Tool. Further comparison of H56 population coverage between South African Blacks and Caucasians based on the phenotypic frequencies of binding MHC Class I and Class II supertype alleles found that all of the nine MHC-I and six of eight MHC-II human leukocyte antigen (HLA) supertype alleles analyzed were significantly differentially expressed between the two subpopulations. This finding suggests the presence of race-specific functional binding motifs of MHC-I and MHC-II HLA alleles, which, in turn, highlights the importance of including diverse populations in vaccine clinical evaluation. In conclusion, H56 vaccine is predicted to have a promising population coverage in South Africa; this study demonstrates the utility of integrating comparative genomics and bioinformatics in bridging animal and clinical studies of novel TB vaccines.
Keywords: Epitope prediction; H56; Population coverage; Rv2660c; Subunit vaccines; Tuberculosis.
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