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Title: Implications of HCV genotype 3 specific immunity on cross-reactive vaccine design
Author: von Delft, Annette Reingart
ISNI:       0000 0004 5353 8533
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2014
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Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a major global pathogen that infects an estimated 170 million people worldwide, and for which currently no vaccine is available. HCV is a highly diverse viral pathogen and exists as 6 major genotypes sharing only 75% sequence homology; developing a vaccine that is cross-reactive between genotypes is a major challenge. Defining immune responses that target different HCV genotypes will facilitate pan-genotypic T cell vaccine development. HCV genotype 3 (gt3) is now the most common infecting genotype in the United Kingdom and large parts of Asia; however, data regarding the T cell antigenic targets of this genotype is very limited. In this thesis, HCV gt3 specific T cell targets were defined in acute, chronic and spontaneously resolved infection: in chronic gt3 infection, T cell responses were low in magnitude and narrowly focused in specificity, similar to those previously reported for gt1; in contrast, resolved infection was associated with a higher magnitude and broader specificity of CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses across the genome. Overall, T cell specificity in gt3 infection was markedly different to that previously described for gt1, confirming that sequence differences between genotypes result in distinct immunological profiles. Previous work from our laboratory demonstrated that, though T cell responses induced by a potent T cell vaccine containing HCV gt1b non-structural regions do target epitopes dominant in natural infection, induced T cells show limited cross-reactivity against other genotypes. In this thesis, it was assessed whether T cells primed in natural gt3 infection are able to recognize viral sequence variants at dominant epitopes, which would make these potential targets in cross-reactive vaccine design. For seven gt3-specific T cell epitopes identified here as dominant, major sequence variability was observed within and between genotypes, and limited T cell cross-reactivity observed against identified viral variants. This suggests that regions frequently targeted in natural infection may not serve as attractive targets for cross-reactive vaccine design. These results informed the subsequent design of a cross-reactive vaccine based on fragments of HCV that are conserved between genotypes. A generic algorithm was developed to define viral regions conserved between major HCV genotypes (for 1a/1b, 1/3a, 1-6), and these were joined to form immunogens between 819 and 1543 AA long. Possible artificial, non-HCV epitopes formed by junctions were identified using online epitope prediction servers, and abrogated through the insertion of 2-6 amino acid linkers. To address the concern that conserved regions may not be immunogenic, epitopes described in natural HCV infection were mapped on HCV sequences, showing that conserved segments are well populated with epitopes; additionally, strong binding peptides were predicted for conserved segments using online epitope prediction programs, suggesting potential in vivo immunogenicity. In conclusion, HCV T cell specificity is distinct between genotypes, with limited T cell cross-reactivity between viral variants. Leading from this result, vaccine immunogens were designed entirely based on conserved viral regions. This work paves the way for future studies of novel HCV immunogens based on conserved viral segments between genotypes.
Supervisor: Barnes, Eleanor Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Medical sciences ; Gastroenterology ; Immunology ; Viruses ; Infectious diseases ; Hepatitis C Virus ; T-cell ; genotype 3 ; cross-reactivity ; Vaccine design