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Hypervariable antigenic region 1 of classical swine fever virus E2 protein impacts antibody neutralization.

Envelope glycoprotein E2 of classical swine fever virus (CSFV) is the major antigen that induces neutralizing antibodies and confers protection against CSFV infection. There are three hypervariable antigenic regions (HAR1, HAR2 and HAR3) of E2 that are different between the group 1 vaccine C-strain and group 2 clinical isolates. This study was aimed to characterize the antigenic epitope region recognized by monoclonal antibody 4F4 (mAb-4F4) that is present in the group 2 field isolate HZ1-08, but not in the C-strain, and examine its impact on neutralization titers when antisera from different recombinant viruses were cross-examined. Indirect ELISA with C-strain E2-based chimeric proteins carrying the three HAR regions showed that the mAb-4F4 bound to HAR1 from HZ1-08 E2, but not to HAR2 or HAR3, indicating that the specific epitope is located in the HAR1 region. Of the 6 major residues differences between C-strain and field isolates, Glu713 in the HAR1 region of strain HZ1-08 is critical for mAb-4F4 binding either at the recombinant protein level or using intact recombinant viruses carrying single mutations. C-strain-based recombinant viruses carrying the most antigenic part of E2 or HAR1 from strain HZ1-08 remained non-pathogenic to pigs and induced good antibody responses. By cross-neutralization assay, we observed that the anti-C-strain serum lost most of its neutralization capacity to RecC-HZ-E2 and QZ-14 (subgroup 2.1d field isolate in 2014), and vice versa. More importantly, the RecC-HAR1 virus remained competent in neutralizing ReC-HZ-E2 and QZ-14 strains without compromising the neutralization capability to the recombinant C-strain. Thus, we propose that chimeric C-strain carrying the HAR1 region of field isolates is a good vaccine candidate for classical swine fever.

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