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The envelope glycoprotein E2 of hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the target of neutralizing antibodies and is presently being evaluated as an HCV vaccine candidate. HCV binds to human cells through the interaction of E2 with the tetraspanin CD81, a putative viral receptor component. We have analyzed four different E2 proteins from 1a and 1b viral isolates for their ability to bind to recombinant CD81 in vitro and to the native receptor displayed on the surface of Molt-4 cells. A substantial difference in binding efficiency between these E2 variants was observed, with proteins derived from 1b subtypes showing significantly lower binding than the 1a protein. To elucidate the mechanism of E2-CD81 interaction and to identify critical regions responsible for the different binding efficiencies of the E2 variants, several mutants were generated in E2 protein regions predicted by computer modeling to be exposed on the protein surface. Functional analysis of these E2 derivatives revealed that at least two distinct domains are responsible for interaction with CD81. A first segment centered around amino acid residues 613 to 618 is essential for recognition, while a second element including the two hypervariable regions (HVRs) modulates E2 receptor binding. Binding inhibition experiments with anti-HVR monoclonal antibodies confirmed this mapping and supported the hypothesis that a complex interplay between the two HVRs of E2 is responsible for modulating receptor binding, possibly through intramolecular interactions. Finally, E2 proteins from different isolates displayed a profile of binding to human hepatic cells different from that observed on Molt-4 cells or isolated recombinant CD81, indicating that additional factors are involved in viral recognition by target liver cells.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of virology

Publication Date





1856 - 1867


Istituto di Ricerche di Biologia Molecolare P. Angeletti, 00040 Pomezia (Rome), Italy.


Liver, Cell Line, Humans, Membrane Proteins, Viral Envelope Proteins, Antigens, CD, Species Specificity, Amino Acid Sequence, Molecular Sequence Data, Tetraspanin 28