PLoS Pathogens. 2018 May 23; doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1007095

Lauren M. Hook, Tina M. Cairns, Sita Awasthi, Benjamin D. Brooks, Noah T. Ditto, Roselyn J. Eisenberg, Gary H. Cohen, Harvey M. Friedman


Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) glycoprotein D (gD2) subunit antigen is included in many preclinical candidate vaccines. The rationale for including gD2 is to produce antibodies that block crucial gD2 epitopes involved in virus entry and cell-to-cell spread. HSV-2 gD2 was the only antigen in the Herpevac Trial for Women that protected against HSV-1 genital infection but not HSV-2. In that trial, a correlation was detected between gD2 ELISA titers and protection against HSV-1, supporting the importance of antibodies. A possible explanation for the lack of protection against HSV-2 was that HSV-2 neutralization titers were low, four-fold lower than to HSV-1. Here, we evaluated neutralization titers and epitope-specific antibody responses to crucial gD2 epitopes involved in virus entry and cell-to-cell spread as correlates of immune protection against genital lesions in immunized guinea pigs. We detected a strong correlation between neutralizing antibodies and protection against genital disease. We used a high throughput biosensor competition assay to measure epitope-specific responses to seven crucial gD2 linear and conformational epitopes involved in virus entry and spread. Some animals produced antibodies to most crucial epitopes while others produced antibodies to few. The number of epitopes recognized by guinea pig immune serum correlated with protection against genital lesions. We confirmed the importance of antibodies to each crucial epitope using monoclonal antibody passive transfer that improved survival and reduced genital disease in mice after HSV-2 genital challenge. We re-evaluated our prior study of epitope-specific antibody responses in women in the Herpevac Trial. Humans produced antibodies that blocked significantly fewer crucial gD2 epitopes than guinea pigs, and antibody responses in humans to some linear epitopes were virtually absent. Neutralizing antibody titers and epitope-specific antibody responses are important immune parameters to evaluate in future Phase I/II prophylactic human vaccine trials that contain gD2 antigen.

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