Although there is no effective cure for chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection, antibodies are protective and correlate with recovery from infection. To examine the human antibody response to HBV, we screened 124 vaccinated and 20 infected, spontaneously recovered individuals. The selected individuals produced shared clones of broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) that targeted 3 non-overlapping epitopes on the HBV S antigen (HBsAg). Single bNAbs protected humanized mice against infection but selected for resistance mutations in mice with prior established infection. In contrast, infection was controlled by a combination of bNAbs targeting non-overlapping epitopes with complementary sensitivity to mutations that commonly emerge during human infection. The co-crystal structure of one of the bNAbs with an HBsAg peptide epitope revealed a stabilized hairpin loop. This structure, which contains residues frequently mutated in clinical immune escape variants, provides a molecular explanation for why immunotherapy for HBV infection may require combinations of complementary bNAbs.
Keywords: Hepatitis B infection; broadly neutralizing antibodies; crystal structure; elite neutralizing activity; escape mutations; humanized mice; passive immunotherapy; prophylaxis.
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