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Clin Vaccine Immunol. 2012 Apr;19(4):461-7. doi: 10.1128/CVI.00035-12. Epub 2012 Feb 8.

Xenoepitope substitution avoids deceptive imprinting and broadens the immune response to foot-and-mouth disease virus.

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Center of Excellence for Vaccine Research, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut, USA.


Many RNA viruses encode error-prone polymerases which introduce mutations into B and T cell epitopes, providing a mechanism for immunological escape. When regions of hypervariability are found within immunodominant epitopes with no known function, they are referred to as "decoy epitopes," which often deceptively imprint the host's immune response. In this work, a decoy epitope was identified in the foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) serotype O VP1 G-H loop after multiple sequence alignment of 118 isolates. A series of chimeric cyclic peptides resembling the type O G-H loop were prepared, each bearing a defined "B cell xenoepitope" from another virus in place of the native decoy epitope. These sequences were derived from porcine respiratory and reproductive syndrome virus (PRRSV), from HIV, or from a presumptively tolerogenic sequence from murine albumin and were subsequently used as immunogens in BALB/c mice. Cross-reactive antibody responses against all peptides were compared to a wild-type peptide and ovalbumin (OVA). A broadened antibody response was generated in animals inoculated with the PRRSV chimeric peptide, in which virus binding of serum antibodies was also observed. A B cell epitope mapping experiment did not reveal recognition of any contiguous linear epitopes, raising the possibility that the refocused response was directed to a conformational epitope. Taken together, these results indicate that xenoepitope substitution is a novel method for immune refocusing against decoy epitopes of RNA viruses such as FMDV as part of the rational design of next-generation vaccines.

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