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Eur J Immunol. 2005 Feb;35(2):505-14.

High epitope density in a single protein molecule significantly enhances antigenicity as well as immunogenicity: a novel strategy for modern vaccine development and a preliminary investigation about B cell discrimination of monomeric proteins.

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Laboratory of Immunology, Department of Biology and Institute of Biomedical Science, Tsinghua University, Protein Science Laboratory of the MOE, Beijing, PR China.


Although early studies have shown a close correlation between epitope density and epitope-specific humoral immune responses, few attempts have been made to quantitatively compare the antigenic and immunogenic differences between protein molecules bearing low or high degrees of epitope density, nor have studies quantitatively investigated the mechanism of B cell discrimination of monomeric antigens. In this study, we prepared glutathione S-transferase (GST) fusion proteins bearing various copies of the M2e epitope from the influenza virus M2 protein [GST-(M2e)8, GST-(M2e)4 and GST-(M2e)1], which were used to detect and compare the real-time kinetic binding with M2e-specific mAb by surface plasma resonance. Our data show clearly that fusion proteins bearing higher M2e epitope density resulted in higher average avidity for M2e-specific mAb. Furthermore, it was observed that fusion proteins bearing high M2e epitope density could induce polyclonal antibodies (pAb) with enhanced an average affinity constant (KA) for M2e epitope peptide compared to fusion proteins bearing low epitope density. The average KA of pAb induced by GST-(M2e)8 (3.08 x 10(8) M(-1) or 9.96 x 10(8) M(-1)) was up to two orders of magnitude greater than the average KA of pAb induced by GST-(M2e)1 (2.00 x 10(6) M(-1) or 3.43 x 10(6) M(-1)). Thus, the data presented here demonstrate that high epitope density in a single protein molecule significantly enhances antigenicity and immunogenicity. These findings enrich our knowledge of how epitope density might relate to the recognition, activation and antibody production processes of epitope-specific immature B cells.

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