Overcoming immunotolerance in chronic viral hepatitis with lentivector vaccine immunotherapy.

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Infection


Chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C affect around 350 and 170 million people worldwide respectively. A far greater number have been infected but have successfully cleared the virus. In chronic infection, however, the virus has been able to evade the immune system by changing rapidly or interfering with normal immunity. In these patients, persistent infection often progresses to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. Unfortunately, current treatments have limited success rates and frequent side-effects.

Our goal is to develop a means of clearing viral infection by targeted activation of the immune system in such a way that bypasses inhibitory signals from the virus. We have already successfully used this technique to stimulate the immune system in cultures of human immune cells and to shrink tumours in mice. This approach involves delivering genes to cells of the immune system which enhance their function and stimulate responses against chosen targets - in this instance the hepatitis viruses.

We will test the efficacy of this approach in a mouse model as well as in blood samples from patients with chronic hepatitis B and C. This will be a crucial first step towards developing an effective targeted therapy for chronic viral hepatitis.

Technical Summary

Successful immunotherapy for chronic hepatitis B (CHB) and C (CHC) must overcome both endogenous immunotolerant mechanisms and also viral inhibitory factors that directly down-regulate dendritic cell (DC) and T-cell function. Loading DCs with key antigens can recruit naive multispecific T-cell responses, but sustained activation of DCs is essential for reconstitution of exhausted T-cells and expansion of T-cell populations with underrepresented specificities, thus broadening the response. We have developed lentiviral vectors which can efficiently transduce DCs in vivo and in vitro with both antigen and also constitutive activators of the NF-KB and MAPK pathways (vFLIP and MEKK6 respectively). This dramatically increases DC-activation markers, antigen presentation and subsequent antigen-specific CD8 responses (up to 10-fold). In vivo, co-expression of MEKK6 or vFLIP with tumour antigens has a potent anti-tumour effect prolonging survival in murine models. We recently reproduced these results with non-integrating lentivectors which minimise the theoretical risk of insertional mutagenesis in target cells.


The goal of this project is to develop a lentivector-based immunotherapy for CHB and CHC. We will test the ability of vFLIP- or MEKK6-expressing lentivectors to induce a more potent, multispecific CTL response to viral hepatitis antigens. This will be assessed in vivo using an HLA A2-transgenic murine model and in vitro with DCs and T-cells from patients with chronic viral hepatitis.


1) HLA-A2 transgenic mice will be injected subcutaneously with lentiviral vectors encoding viral hepatitis antigen (HBV or HCV nucleoprotein) and either vFLIP or MEKK6. Control groups will include unvaccinated mice and vaccination with vectors encoding mutant inactive vFLIPa57l or MEKK6 K82A. Immune responses will be measured by in vivo killing assays of peptide pulsed splenocytes from naïve mice and FACS quantification of specific CD8 T-cells (pentaer staining), IFN-producing CD8 T-cells and markers of CD8 cytotoxicity and DC activation.

2) DCs from patients with chronic viral hepatitis and those who have cleared infection will be isolated and treated with lentivector preparations in vitro. After rounds of stimulation with lentivector-transduced DCs or DCs treated with peptide pulsing alone, autologous T-cell responses will be measured as above.

Further development

We will assess the immunogenicity of a range of HBV and HCV antigens in lentivector constructs, with the aim of using the most promising in phase I clinical trials. We will also test HBV antigen-expressing lentivectors in the HBV transgenic mouse model in which T-cell responses to HBV antigens are tolerised.


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Description UCL Bogue Fellowship
Amount £4,000 (GBP)
Organisation University College London 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2012 
End 09/2012
Description Lentiviral vectors for vaccination against influenza 
Organisation Wellcome Trust
Department Wellcome Centre for Respiratory Infection
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Adapting animal models of vaccination for viral hepatitis to live influenza infection.
Collaborator Contribution The influenza group at Imperial (Prof Wendy Barclay) have provided multiple influenza strains and training in virological assays, allowing testing of our lentiviral vectors designed for improving T-cell responses to hepatitis in the context of influenza cross-strain protection in mice. This has allowed us to test molecular adjuvants that form the basis of this vaccine project in the context of live infection (no small animal model for hepatitis B infection exists).
Impact An poster of this work was presented at the European Society Working Group on Influenza conference in September 2011 and a paper has been submitted to the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Start Year 2010
Description Yale Pathology 
Organisation Yale University
Department School of Medicine
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Construction of lentiviral vaccines against hepatitis B for testing in HBV transgenic and DNA injection models Construction of lentiviral vectors expressing full length HBV genomes to establish mouse models of HBV
Collaborator Contribution Provision of HBV transgenic mice, training in the HBV transgenic model. All experiments were conducted at Dr Mike Robek's lab at Yale.
Impact Project is ongoing.
Start Year 2012
Description News article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This was an article in the Observer reporting progress in this project towards lentiviral vector vaccines against viral hepatitis and influenza

A follow-up article is anticipated if forthcoming papers are accepted for publication
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
URL http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/apr/24/my-bright-idea-mary-collins