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J Biotechnol. 1999 Aug 20;73(2-3):141-53.

New chimaeric hepatitis B virus core particles carrying hantavirus (serotype Puumala) epitopes: immunogenicity and protection against virus challenge.

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Institute of Virology, Humboldt University, Charité Medical School, Berlin, Germany.


Virus-like particles generated by the heterologous expression of virus structural proteins are able to potentiate the immunogenicity of foreign epitopes presented on their surface. In recent years epitopes of various origin have been inserted into the core antigen of hepatitis B virus (HBV) allowing the formation of chimaeric HBV core particles. Chimaeric core particles carrying the 45 N-terminal amino acids of the Puumala hantavirus nucleocapsid protein induced protective immunity in bank voles, the natural host of this hantavirus. Particles applied in the absence of adjuvant are still immunogenic and partially protective in bank voles. Although a C-terminally truncated core antigen of HBV (HBcAg delta) tolerates the insertion of extended foreign sequences, for the construction of multivalent vaccines the limited insertion capacity is still a critical factor. Recently, we have described a new system for generating HBV 'mosaic particles' in an Escherichia coli suppressor strain based on a readthrough mechanism on a stop linker located in front of the insert. Those mosaic particles are built up by both HBcAg delta and the HBcAg delta/Puumala nucleocapsid readthrough protein. The particles formed presented the 114 amino acid (aa) long hantavirus sequence, at least in part, on their surface and induced antibodies against the hantavirus sequence in bank voles. Variants of the stop linker still allowed the formation of mosaic particles demonstrating that stop codon suppression alone is sufficient for the packaging of longer foreign sequences in mosaic particles. Another approach to increase the insertion capacity is based on the simultaneous insertion of different Puumala nucleocapsid protein sequences (aa 1-45 and aa 75-119) into two different positions (aa 78 and behind aa 144) of a single HBcAg molecule. The data presented are of high relevance for the generation of multivalent vaccines requiring a high insertion capacity for foreign sequences.

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