A synthetic peptide representing residues 397-420 from the measles virus (MV) fusion (F) protein was tested for its structure, immunogenicity and protective capacity against intracerebral challenge with a neuroadapted strain of MV. Analysis of the peptide by mass spectrometry showed that it was linear, despite the presence of two cysteine residues in the sequence. Circular dichroism spectroscopy highlighted a weak preference for the peptide to adopt an alpha-helical conformation. The peptide was shown to be immunogenic in BALB/c and C57BL/6 mice after intraperitoneal immunization in Freund's adjuvant, and anti-peptide antibodies from both strains of mice reacted with the MV as a solid phase antigen on an ELISA plate. When the fine specificity of the anti-peptide antibody response was examined using overlapping 8-mer peptides, serum antibodies from BALB/c mice recognized the region between residues 407-417 whereas antibodies from C57BL/6 mice recognized the region 408-420 of the 397-420 peptide sequence. Although anti-397-420 antibodies had no demonstrable neutralizing activity, protection against challenge with a neuroadapted strain of MV was demonstrated following active immunization with peptide in C57BL/6 mice or after passive transfer of anti-peptide antibodies in BALB/c mice. These findings highlight the importance of the 397-420 region in the induction of protective antibodies in the MV encephalitis mouse model, and suggest that this epitope might be a good candidate for inclusion in a future MV synthetic peptide vaccine.


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