Viral envelope glycoproteins are major targets for antibodies that bind to and inactivate viral particles. The capacity of a viral vaccine to induce virus-neutralizing antibodies is often used as a marker for vaccine efficacy. Yet the number of known neutralization target epitopes is restricted owing to various viral escape mechanisms. We expand the range of possible viral glycoprotein targets, by presenting a previously unknown type of viral glycoprotein epitope based on a short peptide stretch modified with small O-linked glycans. Besides being immunologically active, these epitopes have a high potential for antigenic variation. Thus, sera from patients infected with EBV develop individual IgG responses addressing the different possible glycopeptide glycoforms of one short peptide backbone that reflect individual variations in the course of virus infection. In contrast, in HSV type 2 meningitis patients, CSF antibodies are focussed to only one single glycoform peptide of a major viral glycoprotein. Thus, dependent on the viral disease, the serological response may be variable or constant with respect to the number of targeted peptide glycoforms. Mapping of these epitopes relies on a novel three-step procedure that identifies any reactive viral O-glycosyl peptide epitope with respect to (i) relevant peptide sequence, (ii) the reactive glycoform out of several possible glycopeptide isomers of that peptide sequence, and (iii) possibly tolerated carbohydrate or peptide structural variations at glycosylation sites. In conclusion, the viral O-glycosyl peptide epitopes may be of relevance for development of subunit vaccines and for improved serodiagnosis of viral diseases.
The project is funded by two EU initiatives GlycoBioM and EbolaMoDRAD.
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