Incorporation of apolipoprotein E into HBV-HCV subviral envelope particles to improve the hepatitis vaccine strategy

Sci Rep. 2021 Nov 8;11(1):21856. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-01428-7.

Abstract

Hepatitis C is a major threat to public health for which an effective treatment is available, but a prophylactic vaccine is still needed to control this disease. We designed a vaccine based on chimeric HBV-HCV envelope proteins forming subviral particles (SVPs) that induce neutralizing antibodies against HCV in vitro. Here, we aimed to increase the neutralizing potential of those antibodies, by using HBV-HCV SVPs bearing apolipoprotein E (apoE). These particles were produced by cultured stable mammalian cell clones, purified and characterized. We found that apoE was able to interact with both chimeric HBV-HCV (E1-S and E2-S) proteins, and with the wild-type HBV S protein. ApoE was also detected on the surface of purified SVPs and improved the folding of HCV envelope proteins, but its presence lowered the incorporation of E2-S protein. Immunization of New Zealand rabbits resulted in similar anti-S responses for all rabbits, whereas anti-E1/-E2 antibody titers varied according to the presence or absence of apoE. Regarding the neutralizing potential of these anti-E1/-E2 antibodies, it was higher in rabbits immunized with apoE-bearing particles. In conclusion, the association of apoE with HCV envelope proteins may be a good strategy for improving HCV vaccines based on viral envelope proteins.