A vaccine for hepatitis C virus (HCV) is urgently needed. Development of broadly neutralizing plasma antibodies during acute infection is associated with HCV clearance, but the viral epitopes of these plasma antibodies are unknown. Identifying these epitopes could define the specificity and function of neutralizing antibodies (NAbs) that should be induced by a vaccine. Here, we present the development and application of a high-throughput method that deconvolutes polyclonal anti-HCV NAbs in plasma, delineating the epitope specificities of anti-HCV NAbs in acute-infection plasma of 44 humans with subsequent clearance or persistence of HCV. Remarkably, we identified multiple broadly neutralizing antibody combinations that were associated with greater plasma neutralizing breadth and with HCV clearance. These studies have the potential to inform new strategies for vaccine development by identifying broadly neutralizing antibody combinations in plasma associated with the natural clearance of HCV, while also providing a high-throughput assay that could identify these responses after vaccination trials.
Valerie J. Kinchen, Guido Massaccesi, Andrew I. Flyak, Madeleine C. Mankowski, Michelle D. Colbert, William O. Osburn, Stuart C. Ray, Andrea L. Cox, James E. Crowe Jr, Justin R. Bailey