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J Mol Biol. 2006 Jan 20;355(3):562-76. Epub 2005 Nov 8.

Epitope diversity of hepatitis B virus capsids: quasi-equivalent variations in spike epitopes and binding of different antibodies to the same epitope.

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Laboratory of Structural Biology National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


To investigate the range of antigenic variation of HBV capsids, we have characterized the epitopes for two anti-capsid antibodies by cryo-electron microscopy and image reconstruction of Fab-labeled capsids to approximately 10A resolution followed by molecular modeling. Both antibodies engage residues on the protruding spikes but their epitopes and binding orientations differ. Steric interference effects limit maximum binding to approximately 50% average occupancy in each case. However, the occupancies of the two copies of a given epitope that are present on a single spike differ, reflecting subtle distinctions in structure and hence, binding affinity, arising from quasi-equivalence. The epitope for mAb88 is conformational but continuous, consisting of a loop-helix motif (residues 77-87) on one of the two polypeptide chains in the spike. In contrast, the epitope for mAb842, like most conformational epitopes, is discontinuous, consisting of a loop on one polypeptide chain (residues 74-78) combined with a loop-helix element (residues 78-83) on the other. The epitope of mAb842 is essentially identical with that previously mapped for mAb F11A4, although the binding orientations of the two monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) differ, as do their affinities measured by surface plasmon resonance. From the number of monoclonals (six) whose binding had to be characterized to give the first duplicate epitope, we estimate the total number of core antigen (cAg) epitopes to be of the order of 20. Given that different antibodies may share the same epitope, the potential number of distinct anti-cAg clones should be considerably higher. The observation that the large majority of cAg epitopes are conformational reflects the relative dimensions of a Fab (large) and the small size and close packing of the motifs that are exposed and accessible on the capsid surface.

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