Peptide-Based Vaccinology: Experimental and Computational Approaches to Target Hypervariable Viruses through the Fine Characterization of Protective Epitopes Recognized by Monoclonal Antibodies and the Identification of T-Cell-Activating Peptides
Defining immunogenic domains of viral proteins capable of eliciting a protective immune response is crucial in the development of novel epitope-based prophylactic strategies. This is particularly important for the selective targeting of conserved regions shared among hypervariable viruses. Studying postinfection and postimmunization sera, as well as cloning and characterization of monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), still represents the best approach to identify protective epitopes. In particular, a protective mAb directed against conserved regions can play a key role in immunogen design and in human therapy as well. Experimental approaches aiming to characterize protective mAb epitopes or to identify T-cell-activating peptides are often burdened by technical limitations and can require long time to be correctly addressed. Thus, in the last decade many epitope predictive algorithms have been developed. These algorithms are continually evolving, and their use to address the empirical research is widely increasing. Here, we review several strategies based on experimental techniques alone or addressed by in silico analysis that are frequently used to predict immunogens to be included in novel epitope-based vaccine approaches. We will list the main strategies aiming to design a new vaccine preparation conferring the protection of a neutralizing mAb combined with an effective cell-mediated response.