Conformational flexibility in the CD81-binding site of the hepatitis C virus glycoprotein E2

Luisa J. Ströh, Kumar Nagarathinam, Thomas Krey*

*Corresponding author for this work
15 Citations (Scopus)


Numerous antibodies have been described that potently neutralize a broad range of hepatitis C virus (HCV) isolates and the majority of these antibodies target the binding site for the cellular receptor CD81 within the major HCV glycoprotein E2. A detailed understanding of the major antigenic determinants is crucial for the design of an efficient vaccine that elicits high levels of such antibodies. In the past 6 years, structural studies have shed additional light on the way the host's humoral immune system recognizes neutralization epitopes within the HCV glycoproteins. One of the most striking findings from these studies is that the same segments of the E2 polypeptide chain induce antibodies targeting distinct antigen conformations. This was demonstrated by several crystal structures of identical polypeptide segments bound to different antibodies, highlighting an unanticipated intrinsic structural flexibility that allows binding of antibodies with distinct paratope shapes following an "induced-fit" mechanism. This unprecedented flexibility extends to the entire binding site for the cellular receptor CD81, underlining the importance of dynamic analyses to understand (1) the interplay between HCV and the humoral immune system and (2) the relevance of this structural flexibility for virus entry. This review summarizes the current understanding how neutralizing antibodies target structurally flexible epitopes. We focus on differences and common features of the reported structures and discuss the implications of the observed structural flexibility for the viral replication cycle, the full scope of the interplay between the virus and the host immune system and-most importantly-informed vaccine design.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1396
JournalFrontiers in Immunology
Issue numberJUN
Publication statusPublished - 18.06.2018


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