ARTICLE: Neutralizing antibodies evolve to exploit vulnerable sites in the HCV envelope glycoprotein E2 and mediate spontaneous clearance of infection
JOURNAL: Immunity. 2024 Jan 9;57(1):40-51.e5. doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2023.12.004. Epub 2024 Jan 2.
Individuals who clear primary hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections clear subsequent reinfections more than 80% of the time, but the mechanisms are poorly defined. Here, we used HCV variants and plasma from individuals with repeated clearance to characterize longitudinal changes in envelope glycoprotein E2 sequences, function, and neutralizing antibody (NAb) resistance. Clearance of infection was associated with early selection of viruses with NAb resistance substitutions that also reduced E2 binding to CD81, the primary HCV receptor. Later, peri-clearance plasma samples regained neutralizing capacity against these variants. We identified a subset of broadly NAbs (bNAbs) for which these loss-of-fitness substitutions conferred resistance to unmutated bNAb ancestors but increased sensitivity to mature bNAbs. These data demonstrate a mechanism by which neutralizing antibodies contribute to repeated immune-mediated HCV clearance, identifying specific bNAbs that exploit fundamental vulnerabilities in E2. The induction of bNAbs with these specificities should be a goal of HCV vaccine development.
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