A prophylactic hepatitis C virus (HCV) vaccine that elicits neutralizing antibodies could be key to HCV eradication. However, the genetic and antigenic properties of HCV envelope (E1E2) proteins capable of inducing anti-HCV broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) in humans have not been defined. Here, we investigated the development of bNAbs in longitudinal plasma of HCV-infected persons with persistent infection or spontaneous clearance of multiple reinfections. By measuring plasma antibody neutralization of a heterologous virus panel, we found that the breadth and potency of the antibody response increased upon exposure to multiple genetically distinct infections and with longer duration of viremia. Greater genetic divergence between infecting strains was not associated with enhanced neutralizing breadth. Rather, repeated exposure to antigenically related, antibody-sensitive E1E2s was associated with potent bNAb induction. These data reveal that a prime-boost vaccine strategy with genetically distinct, antibody-sensitive viruses is a promising approach to inducing potent bNAbs in humans.
Nicole Frumento, Alexis Figueroa, Tingchang Wang, Muhammad N. Zahid, Shuyi Wang, Guido Massaccesi, Georgia Stavrakis, James E. Crowe Jr, Andrew I. Flyak, Hongkai Ji, Stuart C. Ray, George M. Shaw, Andrea L. Cox, Justin R. Bailey