To analyse the effect of strain-specific sequence variation on the antigenic properties of the protein encoded by the open reading frame 3 (ORF 3) of hepatitis E virus (HEV), two sets of short overlapping peptides spanning amino acids 91 to 123 of this protein from Burmese and Mexican strains were synthesized and tested with sera obtained from outbreaks of enterically transmitted non-A, non-B hepatitis in three different regions of the world (Mexico, Turkmenistan and Kenya). The data suggest strain-specific variation in the antigenic reactivity of the ORF 3 protein. The C-terminal region of this protein contains several antigenic epitopes located in the most variable positions. Individual sera were found to interact with different groups of epitopes from each set of peptides. The antigenic epitopes of the Mexican strain appear to be less conformation-dependent than those of the Burmese strain. The most immunoreactive epitope of the ORF 3 protein from the Mexican strain was localized at amino acid positions 95 to 101. The ORF 3 protein of the Burmese strain contains an immunodominant epitope at amino acid positions 112 to 117. Some of these short peptides may be useful for the development of a diagnostic assay to discriminate between the Burmese and Mexican strains.


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