One purpose of this study was to examine the influence of viral subtype on in vivo antibody production to the pre-S(2) region of the hepatitis B surface Ag. Immunization with hepatitis B surface Ag particles containing the pre-S(2) region of the d or y subtypes identified the B10.M (H-2f) strain as an antibody nonresponder to the pre-S(2) and S regions after immunization with the y subtype, but as an antibody responder to the pre-S(2) and S regions after immunization with the d subtype. Both the S region and pre-S(2) region-specific antibody responses emanated from pre-S(2)/d-specific Th cell function because B10.M mice are T cell nonresponsive to the S region of both subtypes. Although responder/nonresponder status of the B10.M strain was dependent on the pre-S(2) subtype used for immunization, the anti-pre-S(2) antibody produced was totally cross-reactive on both subtypes. This is consistent with the conserved nature of the dominant pre-S(2) antibody-binding site and the highly polymorphic nature of the pre-S(2) sequence that represents the focus of T cell recognition. These data suggest that, to fully benefit from the inclusion of pre-S(2) region sequences, third generation hepatitis B virus vaccines should contain both the d and y subtype sequences of the pre-S(2) region to increase the frequency of pre-S(2) and S-specific antibody responses and to insure Th cell memory relevant to both viral subtypes. A second purpose of this study was to "design" a synthetic pre-S(2) immunogen based on combining the dominant B and T cell recognition sites into a single peptide. A composite peptide consisting of the dominant T cell recognition sequence p151-174 positioned N-terminal to the dominant B cell site p133-143 (i.e., p151-174(133-143] yielded an effective pre-S(2) synthetic immunogen. Interestingly, the orientation of the T and B cell determinants and the context of the T cell site within the larger composite peptide influenced both antibody fine specificity and T cell fine specificity.

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