SUMMARY: The class 1 outer-membrane protein of is the target for subtype-specific, bactericidal monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). The epitopes recognized by these antibodies have been mapped previously to linear peptides corresponding to the sequences thought to be exposed at the apices of surface-exposed loops of the protein. In this work several synthetic peptides containing the subtype PI. 16b epitope have been synthesized with the aim of inducing a polyclonal immune response resembling the reactivity of the mAbs. Initially, peptides of 9 and 15 amino acid residues were synthesized and used for immunization after coupling to a carrier protein. The reactivity of the resulting antisera, with synthetic linear decapeptides, resembled that seen in previous epitope mapping experiments with the protective mAbs. However, despite the induction of antibodies having the desired specificity, the antisera reacted poorly with the native protein in outer membranes, and were non-bactericidal. A 36mer peptide, consisting of the entire surface-exposed loop 4 of the class 1 protein was then synthesized and used for immunization as (i) free peptide, (ii) peptide coupled to carrier and (iii) peptide subjected to cyclization, in an attempt to restrict it to conformations that might more closely resemble the native loop structure. In contrast to antisera raised against linear peptides, antibodies raised by immunization with the 36mer cyclic peptide, did not react with linear peptides recognized by the mAbs, but instead appeared to recognize conformational determinants. This antiserum promoted complement-mediated bactericidal killing of the homologous meningococcal strain, demonstrating the potential of synthetic peptide immunogens for inducing a protective immune response against group B meningococci.


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