Differential Antigenic Hierarchy Associated with Spontaneous Recovery from Hepatitis C Virus Infection: Implications for Vaccine Design

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Abstract

Background.

Cellular immune responses play a central role in the control of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, and in some individuals the adaptive immune response can spontaneously eradicate HCV infection. The development of vaccine candidates to prevent the spread of this infection remains a top priority; however, understanding the correlates of effective immunological containment is an important prerequisite

Methods.

Using 750 overlapping peptides, we directly characterized ex vivo total and subgenomic HCV-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses in a large cohort of participants with either chronic infection or spontaneously resolved infection

Results.

In chronic infection, the frequency of total CD4+ T cells specific for HCV averaged 0.06%, compared with 0.38% in resolved infection. Total HCV-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses were strongly correlated in the setting of spontaneous resolution but not in the setting of viral persistence. NS3 protein—specific responses comprised a significantly greater proportion of the total response in resolved infection than in chronic infection, whereas responses to different regions comprised a larger proportion of responses in chronic infection

Conclusion.

Because these data comprehensively define the breadth, specificity, and threshold of the T cell response associated with spontaneous recovery from HCV infection, they have important implications in the development of multigenic vaccine candidates for this common infection

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