The capacity of novel subunit vaccines to generate cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) against hepatitis C virus (HCV) was assessed. BALB/c mice were immunized with peptides based on the CTL and helper T cell (Th) epitopes of the HCV core, with a mixture of CTL and Th peptides (CTL+Th) or with a conjugated Th-CTL peptide. Mice immunized with CTL, CTL+Th and Th-CTL peptides, but not those immunized with Th peptide, developed HCV core CTL epitope-specific effector cells. Cytotoxic activity induced by immunization with Th-CTL was much higher than that induced by immunization with CTL+Th or CTL alone. However, rapid and high cytotoxic activities against HCV core were not only detected after immunization with peptides containing the CTL epitope but also as a result of infection with recombinant vaccinia virus carrying the HCV core gene after immunization with the Th epitope alone. Immunization with peptides containing the Th epitope also elicited spleen cell proliferation. This study demonstrates the capacity of both Th and CTL activated peptide vaccines to elicit CD8+, MHC class I-restricted CTLs. The capacity of such CTLs to contribute towards a protective and/or pathogenic immune response against HCV can now be assessed in mouse models.


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