Immunological control of hepatitis C virus (HCV) is possible and is probably mediated by host T-cell responses, but the genetic diversity of the virus poses a major challenge to vaccine development. We considered monovalent and polyvalent candidates for an HCV vaccine, including natural, consensus and synthetic ‘mosaic’ sequence cocktails. Mosaic vaccine reagents were designed using a computational approach first applied to and demonstrated experimentally for human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-Δ). Mosaic proteins resemble natural proteins, but are assembled from fragments of natural sequences via a genetic algorithm and optimized to maximize the coverage of potential T-cell epitopes (all 9-mers) found in natural sequences and to minimize the inclusion of rare 9-mers to avoid vaccine-specific responses. Genotype 1-specific and global vaccine cocktails were evaluated. Among vaccine candidates considered, polyvalent mosaic sequences provided the best coverage of both known and potential epitopes and had the fewest rare epitopes. A global vaccine based on conserved proteins across genotypes may be feasible, as a five-antigen mosaic cocktail provided 90, 77 and 70 % coverage of the Core, NS3 and NS4 proteins, respectively; protein coverage diminished with increased protein variability, dropping to 38 % for NS2. For the genotype 1-specific vaccine, the H77 prototype vaccine sequence matched only 50 % of the potential epitopes in the population, whilst a polyprotein three-antigen mosaic cocktail increased potential epitope coverage to 83 %. More than 75 % coverage of all HCV proteins was achieved with a three-antigen mosaic cocktail, suggesting that genotype-specific vaccines could also include the more variable proteins.


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Vaccine designs corresponding to Table 1 [ .txt file] (265 KB)


Coverage of published epitopes and their variants by H77 and three-mosaic cocktail optimized for genotype 1 sequences [ PDF] (309 KB)


Schematic representation of mosaic algorithm [ PDF] (165 KB)

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