April 27, 2012

Dengue antibodies give vaccine leads

New information may help speed development of a vaccine or treatment for dengue fever.

Researchers working to produce a vaccine or treatment for dengue fever face a difficult road, because prior infection can sometimes make subsequent infections more severe, instead of milder. James Crowe, professor of pediatrics, microbiology and immunology, is a co-author on a study that draws a clearer picture of the powerful human antibodies produced by dengue fever survivors.

(Wellcome Images)

The investigators discovered that human antibodies reacted in a much weaker way than expected against proteins isolated from the virus (often used as a “subunit vaccine”) compared with the reaction to a whole virus particle. The human antibodies seemed to need the whole virus to work well. Using mapping techniques, the researchers found that a key binding site the best human antibodies use to neutralize dengue virus is a complex, bridged combination of two proteins on the virus’s envelope.

This information, published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may help speed development of an effective vaccine or treatment for dengue fever.

The research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (AI057157) of the National Institutes of Health.