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Since the discovery of the first virus-like particle (VLP) derived from hepatitis B virus in 1980 (1), the field has expanded substantially. Besides successful use of VLPs as safe autologous virus-targeting vaccines, the powerful immunogenicity of VLPs has been also harnessed to generate immune response against heterologous and even self-antigens (2-4). Linking adjuvants to VLPs displaying heterologous antigen ensures simultaneous delivery of all vaccine components to the same antigen-presenting cells. As a consequence, antigen-presenting cells, such as dendritic cells, will process and present the antigen displayed on VLPs while receiving costimulatory signals by the VLP-incorporated adjuvant. Similarly, antigen-specific B cells recognizing the antigen linked to the VLP are simultaneously exposed to the adjuvant. Here, we demonstrate in mice that physical association of antigen, carrier (VLPs), and adjuvant is more critical for B than T cell responses. As a model system, we used the E7 protein from human papilloma virus, which spontaneously forms oligomers with molecular weight ranging from 158 kDa to 10 MDa at an average size of 50 nm. E7 oligomers were either chemically linked or simply mixed with VLPs loaded with DNA rich in non-methylated CG motifs (CpGs), a ligand for toll-like receptor 9. E7-specific IgG responses were strongly enhanced if the antigen was linked to the VLPs. In contrast, both CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses as well as T cell-mediated protection against tumor growth were comparable for linked and mixed antigen formulations. Therefore, our data show that B cell but not T cell responses require antigen-linkage to the carrier and adjuvant for optimal vaccination outcome.

Original publication




Journal article


Frontiers in immunology

Publication Date





226 - 226


The Jenner Institute, Oxford University , Oxford , UK.