Targeting naturally occurring epitope variants of hepatitis C virus with high-affinity T-cell receptors

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Hepatitis C virus (HCV) readily establishes chronic infection, which is characterized by failure of virus-specific CD8+ T cells. HCV uses epitope mutation and T-cell exhaustion to escape from the host immune response. Previously, we engineered high-affinity T-cell receptors (HATs) targeting HIV escape mutants. In this study, the affinity of a T-cell receptor specific for the human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-A2-restricted HCV immunodominant epitope NS3 1406-1415 (KLVALGINAV) was improved from a KD of 6.6 µM to 40 pM. These HATs could also target HCV NS3 naturally occurring variants , including an escape variant vrt1 (KLVVLGINAV), with high affinities. The HATs can be used as high-affinity targeting molecules at the centre of the immune synapse for the HLA-restricted NS3 antigen. By fusing the HAT with a T-cell activation molecule, an anti-CD3 scFv, we constructed a molecule called High-Affinity T-cell activation core (HATac), which can redirect functional cytotoxic T lymphocytes possessing any specificity to recognize and kill cells presenting HCV NS3 antigens. This capability was verified with T2 cells loaded with prototype or variant peptides and HepG2 cells expressing the truncated NS3 prototype or variant proteins. The results indicate that HATac targeting the HLA-restricted NS3 antigen may provide a useful tool for circumventing immune escape mutants and T-cell exhaustion caused by HCV infection.




Zhang, H., Zhang, J., Chen, L., Weng, Z., Tian, Y., Zhao, H., … Li, Y. (2017). Targeting naturally occurring epitope variants of hepatitis C virus with high-affinity T-cell receptors. Journal of General Virology, 98(3), 374–384.

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