Because no vaccine or effective therapy is available, thousands of people with HCV have died in recent years. Cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) play a critical role in the host cellular immune response against HCV. CTL epitopes in HCV core protein have been identified and used in vaccine development. T helper epitopes could promote cytokine secretion and antibody production to fight HCV. Tetanus toxin, an immunogen with many T helper epitopes, was once used in HBV therapeutic vaccine design. Here, eukaryotic and prokaryotic expression vectors were constructed to express truncated fragments of tetanus toxin and core genes of HCV. HLAA2.1 transgenic mice were inoculated with a recombinant plasmid vehicle with these two heterogenic gene fragments, and this augmented the titres of antibody against HCV. Antigen-specific lymphocyte proliferation, Th1 and Th2 cytokine levels and the number of lysed cells were markedly increased in the combined immunization group compared to controls. These findings provide new insights into a potential role for T helper epitopes from tetanus toxin combined with protein from the HCV core gene, which has numerous CTL epitopes. This design strategy may aid in the development of new vaccines against HCV.
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