Refocusing the Immune Response to Selected Epitopes on a Zika Virus Protein Antigen by Nanopatterning

Adv Healthc Mater. 2021 Apr 30;e2002140. doi: 10.1002/adhm.202002140. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Infections with Zika virus (ZIKV) are linked to the development of severe central nervous system disorders, but the need for a ZIKV vaccine remains unmet. Although the design of vaccines that elicit antibodies targeting domain III (DIII) of the ZIKV envelope (E) protein as an antigen is an attractive strategy, poorly neutralizing or cross-reactive antibodies that target the E protein may lead to antibody-dependent enhancement of disease. It is therefore decided to use the previously reported nanopatterning technique, which combines the site-specific incorporation of non-canonical amino acids with site-specific functionalization of the protein with polyethylene glycol (PEG), to shield selected epitopes on DIII. Two different nanopatterned DIII variants are designed and characterized and demonstrate that epitope shielding with PEG completely inhibits the binding of epitope-specific antibodies in vitro. Furthermore, immunization with multivalent nanopatterned DIII antigens results in the refocusing of the antibody response toward the exposed epitopes on the protein surface and away from potentially enhancing epitopes. This ability to redirect the antibody response toward targeted regions of the DIII protein should be useful for the design of effective and safe ZIKV vaccines.

Keywords: Zika virus; envelope proteins; immunofocusing; nanopatterning; vaccines.