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Date of Original Version



Cell & Molecular Biology


Immunoinformatics tools were used to predict human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class II-restricted T cell epitopes within the envelope glycoproteins and nucleocapsid proteins of Ebola virus (EBOV) and Sudan virus (SUDV) and the structural proteins of Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV). Selected epitopes were tested for binding to soluble HLA molecules representing 5 class II alleles (DRB1*0101, DRB1*0301, DRB1*0401, DRB1*0701, and DRB1*1501). All but one of the 25 tested peptides bound to at least one of the DRB1 alleles, and 4 of the peptides bound at least moderately or weakly to all 5 DRB1 alleles. Additional algorithms were used to design a single “string-of-beads” expression construct with 44 selected epitopes arranged to avoid creation of spurious junctional epitopes. Seventeen of these 44 predicted epitopes were conserved between the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) of humans and mice, allowing initial testing in mice. BALB/c mice vaccinated with the multi-epitope construct developed statistically significant cellular immune responses to EBOV, SUDV, and VEEV peptides as measured by interferon (IFN)-γ ELISpot assays. Significant levels of antibodies to VEEV, but not EBOV, were also detected in vaccinated BALB/c mice. To assess immunogenicity in the context of a human MHC, HLA-DR3 transgenic mice were vaccinated with the multi-epitope construct and boosted with a mixture of the 25 peptides used in the binding assays. The vaccinated HLA-DR3 mice developed significant cellular immune responses to 4 of the 25 (16%) tested individual class II peptides as measured by IFN-γ ELISpot assays. In addition, these mice developed antibodies against EBOV and VEEV as measured by ELISA. While a low but significant level of protection was observed in vaccinated transgenic mice after aerosol exposure to VEEV, no protection was observed after intraperitoneal challenge with mouse-adapted EBOV. These studies provide proof of concept for the use of an informatics approach to design a multi-agent, multi-epitope immunogen and provide a basis for further testing aimed at focusing immune responses toward desired protective T cell epitopes.

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