The Immune Epitope Database (IEDB), La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, La Jolla, California, United States of America.
Approximately 3% of the world population is infected by HCV, which represents a major global health challenge. Almost 400 different scientific reports present immunological data related to T cell and antibody epitopes derived from HCV literature. Analysis of all HCV-related epitope hosted in the Immune Epitope Database (IEDB), a repository of freely accessible immune epitope data, revealed more than 1500 and 1900 distinct T cell and antibody epitopes, respectively. The inventory of all data revealed specific trends in terms of the host and the HCV genotypes from which sequences were derived. Upon further analysis we found that this large number of epitopes reflects overlapping structures, and homologous sequences derived from different HCV isolates. To access and visualize this information we developed a novel strategy that assembles large sets of epitope data, maps them onto reference genomes and displays the frequency of positive responses. Compilation of the HCV immune reactivity from hundreds of different studies, revealed a complex and thorough picture of HCV immune epitope data to date. The results pinpoint areas of more intense reactivity or research activities at the level of antibody, CD4 and CD8 responses for each of the individual HCV proteins. In general, the areas targeted by the different effector immune functions were distinct and antibody reactivity was positively correlated with hydrophilicity, while T cell reactivity correlated with hydrophobicity. At the sequence level, epitopes frequently recognized by both T cell and B cell correlated with low variability, and our analysis thus highlighted areas of potential interest for practical applications. The human reactivity was further analyzed to pinpoint differential patterns of reactivity associated with acute versus chronic infection, to reveal the apparent impact of glycosylation on T cell, but not antibody responses, and to highlight a paucity of studies involved antibody epitopes associated with virus neutralization.