Reciprocal inhibition of immunogenic performance in mice of two potent dna immunogens targeting hcv-related liver cancer

Juris Jansons (Coresponding Author), Dace Skrastina, Alisa Kurlanda, Stefan Petkov, Darya Avdoshina, Yulia Kuzmenko, Olga Krotova, Olga Trofimova, Ilya Gordeychuk, Irina Sominskaya, Maria Isaguliants

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


Chronic HCV infection and associated liver cancer impose a heavy burden on the healthcare system. Direct acting antivirals eliminate HCV, unless it is drug resistant, and partially reverse liver disease, but they cannot cure HCV-related cancer. A possible remedy could be a multi-component immunotherapeutic vaccine targeting both HCV-infected and malignant cells, but also those not infected with HCV. To meet this need we developed a two-component DNA vaccine based on the highly conserved core protein of HCV to target HCV-infected cells, and a renowned tumor-associated antigen telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) based on the rat TERT, to target malignant cells. Their synthetic genes were expression-optimized, and HCV core was truncated after aa 152 (Core152opt) to delete the domain interfering with immunogenicity. Core152opt and TERT DNA were highly immunogenic in BALB/c mice, inducing IFN-γ/IL-2/TNF-α response of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. Additionally, DNA-immunization with TERT enhanced cellular immune response against luciferase encoded by a co-delivered plasmid (Luc DNA). However, DNA-immunization with Core152opt and TERT mix resulted in abrogation of immune response against both components. A loss of bioluminescence signal after co-delivery of TERT and Luc DNA into mice indicated that TERT affects the in vivo expression of luciferase directed by the immediate early cytomegalovirus and interferon-β promoters. Panel of mutant TERT variants was created and tested for their expression effects. TERT with deleted N-terminal nucleoli localization signal and mutations abrogating telomerase activity still suppressed the IFN-β driven Luc expression, while the inactivated reverse transcriptase domain of TERT and its analogue, enzymatically active HIV-1 reverse transcriptase, exerted only weak suppressive effects, implying that suppression relied on the presence of the full-length/nearly full-length TERT, but not its enzymatic activity. The effect(s) could be due to interference of the ectopically expressed xenogeneic rat TERT with biogenesis of mRNA, ribosomes and protein translation in murine cells, affecting the expression of immunogens. HCV core can aggravate this effect, leading to early apoptosis of co-expressing cells, preventing the induction of immune response.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1073
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2021


  • Assays of reporter expression
  • CD4+ and CD8+ T cell response
  • Eukaryotic expression
  • Hepatitis C virus
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • Immune suppression
  • Immunotherapy
  • Induction of type I interferons
  • Multi-component DNA vaccine
  • Nucleocapsid (core) protein
  • Telomerase reverse transcriptase

Field of Science*

  • 3.1 Basic medicine
  • 3.2 Clinical medicine
  • 3.3 Health sciences

Publication Type*

  • 1.1. Scientific article indexed in Web of Science and/or Scopus database


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