Immunogenicity and Antiviral Response of Therapeutic Hepatitis B Vaccination in a Mouse Model of HBeAg-Negative, Persistent HBV Infection

Vaccines (Basel). 2021 Jul 31;9(8):841. doi: 10.3390/vaccines9080841.


During the natural course of chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection, the hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg) is typically lost, while the direct transmission of HBeAg-negative HBV may result in fulminant hepatitis B. While the induction of HBV-specific immune responses by therapeutic vaccination is a promising, novel treatment option for chronic hepatitis B, it remains unclear whether a loss of HBeAg may influence its efficacy or tolerability. We therefore generated an adeno-associated virus (AAV)-vector that carries a 1.3-fold overlength HBV genome with a typical stop-codon mutation in the pre-core region and initiates the replication of HBeAg(-) HBV in mouse livers. Infection of C57BL/6 mice established persistent HBeAg(-) HBV-replication without any detectable anti-HBV immunity or liver damage. HBV-carrier mice were immunized with TherVacB, a therapeutic hepatitis B vaccine that uses a particulate HBV S and a core protein for prime vaccination, and a modified vaccinia Ankara (MVA) for boost vaccination. The TherVacB immunization of HBeAg(+) and HBeAg(-) HBV carrier mice resulted in the effective induction of HBV-specific antibodies and the loss of HBsAg but only mild liver damage. Intrahepatic, HBV-specific CD8 T cells induced in HBeAg(-) mice expressed more IFNγ but showed similar cytolytic activity. This indicates that the loss of HBeAg improves the performance of therapeutic vaccination by enhancing non-cytolytic effector functions.

Keywords: chronic hepatitis B; hepatitis B virus; hepatitis B virus e antigen; pre-core mutation; prime/boost vaccination; therapeutic vaccination.