Generation of Antibodies against Foot-and-Mouth-Disease Virus Capsid Protein VP4 Using Hepatitis B Core VLPs as a Scaffold

The picornavirus foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) is the causative agent of the economically important disease of livestock, foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). VP4 is a highly conserved capsid protein, which is important during virus entry. Previous published work has shown that antibodies targeting the N-terminus of VP4 of the picornavirus human rhinovirus are broadly neutralising. In addition, previous studies showed that immunisation with the N-terminal 20 amino acids of enterovirus A71 VP4 displayed on the hepatitis B core (HBc) virus-like particles (VLP) can induce cross-genotype neutralisation. To investigate if a similar neutralising response against FMDV VP4 could be generated, HBc VLPs displaying the N-terminus of FMDV VP4 were designed. The N-terminal 15 amino acids of FMDV VP4 was inserted into the major immunodominant region. HBc VLPs were also decorated with peptides of the N-terminus of FMDV VP4 attached using a HBc-spike binding tag. Both types of VLPs were used to immunise mice and the resulting serum was investigated for VP4-specific antibodies. The VLP with VP4 inserted into the spike, induced VP4-specific antibodies, however the VLPs with peptides attached to the spikes did not. The VP4-specific antibodies could recognise native FMDV, but virus neutralisation was not demonstrated. This work shows that the HBc VLP presents a useful tool for the presentation of FMDV capsid epitopes

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