Dengue viruses (DENV) are the etiological agents of dengue fever (DF) and dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF). The DENV complex consists of four closely related viruses designated DENV serotypes 1 through-4. Although infection with one serotype induces cross reactive antibody to all 4 serotypes, the long term protective antibody response is restricted to the serotype responsible for infection. Cross-reactive antibodies appear to enhance infection during a second infection with a different serotype. The goal of the present study was to characterize the binding specificity and functional properties of human DENV immune sera. The study focused on domain III of the viral envelope protein (EDIII), as this region has a well characterized epitope that is recognized by strongly neutralizing serotype-specific mouse monoclonal antibodies (Mabs). Our results demonstrate that EDIII-reactive antibodies are present in primary and secondary DENV immune human sera. Human antibodies bound to a serotype specific epitope on EDIII after primary infection and a serotype cross reactive epitope on EDIII after secondary infection. However, EDIII-binding antibodies constituted only a small fraction of the total antibody in immune sera binding to DENV. Studies with complete and EDIII antibody depleted human immune sera demonstrated that EDIII binding antibodies play a minor role in DENV neutralization. We propose that human antibodies directed to other epitopes on the virus are primarily responsible for DENV neutralization. Our results have implications for understanding protective immunity following natural DENV infection and for evaluating DENV vaccines.
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