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Native Display of Complete Foreign Protein Domains on the Surface of Hepatitis B Virus Capsids

Peter A. Kratz, Bettina Bottcher and Michael Nassal
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Vol. 96, No. 5 (Mar. 2, 1999), pp. 1915-1920
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/46988
Page Count: 6
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Native Display of Complete Foreign Protein Domains on the Surface of Hepatitis B Virus Capsids
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Abstract

The nucleocapsid of hepatitis B virus (HBV), or HBcAg, is a highly symmetric structure formed by multiple dimers of a single core protein that contains potent T helper epitopes in its 183-aa sequence. Both factors make HBcAg an unusually strong immunogen and an attractive candidate as a carrier for foreign epitopes. The immunodominant c/e1 epitope on the capsid has been suggested as a superior location to convey high immunogenicity to a heterologous sequence. Because of its central position, however, any c/e1 insert disrupts the core protein's primary sequence; hence, only peptides, or rather small protein fragments seemed to be compatible with particle formation. According to recent structural data, the epitope is located at the tips of prominent surface spikes formed by the very stable dimer interfaces. We therefore reasoned that much larger inserts might be tolerated, provided the individual parts of a corresponding fusion protein could fold independently. Using the green fluorescent protein (GFP) as a model insert, we show that the chimeric protein efficiently forms fluorescent particles; hence, all of its structurally important parts must be properly folded. We also demonstrate that the GFP domains are surface-exposed and that the chimeric particles elicit a potent humoral response against native GFP. Hence, proteins of at least up to 238 aa can be natively displayed on the surface of HBV core particles. Such chimeras may not only be useful as vaccines but may also open the way for high resolution structural analyses of non-assembling proteins by electron microscopy.

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