In this study, we characterized the B cell and T cell responses to the hydrophilic portion of hepatitis C virus (HCV) core protein in two strains of mice and identified the respective antigen determinants. BALB/c (H-2) and C57BL/6 (B6:H-2) mice were immunized by a subcutaneous injection of recombinant HCV core protein together with Freund's complete adjuvant. The level of antibody production, as determined by ELISA, was consistently higher in BALB/c than in B6 mice. However, antibodies in sera from each strain bound to the N-terminal region of the core protein within amino acids 1 to 28 (MSTNPKPQRKIKRNTNRRPQDVKFPGGG), according to an experiment using non-overlapping peptides that covered the hydrophilic portion of HCV core protein. The T cell responses were also higher in BALB/c than in B6 mice with respect to the proliferative responses of the draining lymph node cells . By limiting dilution cultures of the draining lymph node cells repetitively stimulated with recombinant core protein, T cell clones were established from both strains of mice and characterized. The surface markers of these clones were Thy-1.2, CD3, TCRαβ, CD4 and CD8. The proliferative responses were inhibited in the presence of anti-CD4 or anti-MHC class II monoclonal antibodies. The T cell lines in BALB/c mice recognized an epitope in HCV core at amino acids 72 to 91 (EGRAWAQPGYPWPLYGNEGL). The T cell lines in B6 mice recognized an epitope at amino acids 55 to 74 (RPQPRGRRQPIPKARQPEGR). Thus, mice with different MHC haplotypes recognized different non-overlapping T cell antigenic determinants of HCV core proteins.


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