Cell-to-cell spread inhibiting antibodies constitute a correlate of protection against herpes simplex virus type 1 reactivations : A retrospective study

Background: Herpes simplex viruses (HSV) cause ubiquitous human infections. For vaccine development, knowledge concerning correlates of protection is essential. Therefore, we investigated (I) if humans are in principle capable producing cell-to-cell spread inhibiting antibodies against HSV and (II) whether this capacity is associated with a reduced HSV-1 reactivation risk.

Methods: We established a high-throughput HSV-1-ΔgE-GFP reporter virus-based assay and evaluated 2,496 human plasma samples for HSV-1 glycoprotein E (gE) independent cell-to-cell spread inhibiting antibodies. Subsequently, we conducted a retrospective survey among the blood donors to analyze the correlation between the presence of cell-to-cell spread inhibiting antibodies in plasma and the frequency of HSV reactivations.

Results: In total, 128 of the 2,496 blood donors (5.1%) exhibited high levels of HSV-1 gE independent cell-to-cell spread inhibiting antibodies in the plasma. None of the 147 HSV-1 seronegative plasmas exhibited partial or complete cell-to-cell spread inhibition, demonstrating the specificity of our assay. Individuals with cell-to-cell spread inhibiting antibodies showed a significantly lower frequency of HSV reactivations compared to subjects without sufficient levels of such antibodies.

Conclusion: This study contains two important findings: (I) upon natural HSV infection, some humans produce cell-to-cell spread inhibiting antibodies and (II) such antibodies correlate with protection against recurrent HSV-1. Moreover, these elite neutralizers may provide promising material for immunoglobulin therapy and information for the design of a protective vaccine against HSV-1.


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