Use of a novel Hepatitis C major epitope chimeric polypeptide for the diagnosis of HCV viral infection.
ABSTRACT: The genome of hepatitis C virus (HCV) consists of seven functional regions: the core, E1, E2/NS1, NS2, NS3, NS4, and NS5 regions. The U. S. Food and Drug Administration-licensed 2.0G immunoassay for the detection of anti-HCV uses proteins from the core, NS3, and NS4 regions (McHutchinson et al., Hepatology 15:19-25, 1992). The 3.0G enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay includes the protein from the NS5 region (Uyttendaele et al., Vox Sang. 66:122-129, 1994). The necessity of detecting antibodies to viral envelope proteins (E1 and E2) and to different genotype samples has been demonstrated previously (Chien et al., Lancet 342:933, 1993; Lok et al., Hepatology 18:497-502, 1993). In this study we have attempted to improve the sensitivity of the anti-HCV assay by developing a single multiple-epitope fusion antigen (MEFA; MEFA-6) which incorporates all of the major immunodominant epitopes from the seven functional regions of the HCV genome. A nucleic acid sequence consisting of proteins from the viral core, E1, E2, NS3, NS4, and NS5 regions and different subtype-specific regions of the NS4 region was constructed, cloned, and expressed in yeast. The epitopes present on this antigen can be detected by epitope-specific monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies. In a competition assay, the MEFA-6 protein competed with 83 to 96% of genotype-specific antibodies from HCV genotype-specific peptides. This recombinant antigen was subsequently used to design an anti-HCV chemiluminescent immunoassay. We designed our assay using a monoclonal anti-human immunoglobulin G antibody bound to the solid phase. Because MEFA-6 is fused with human superoxide dismutase (h-SOD), we used an anti-human superoxide dismutase, dimethyl acridinium ester-labeled monoclonal antibody for detection. Our results indicate that MEFA-6 exposes all of the major immunogenic epitopes. Its excellent sensitivity and specificity for the detection of clinical seroconversion are demonstrated by this assay.