During antiviral therapy, specific delivery of interferon-α (IFNα) to infected cells may increase its antiviral efficacy, trigger a localized immune reaction, and reduce the side effects caused by systemic administration. Two T-cell receptor-like antibodies (TCR-L) able to selectively bind hepatitis B virus (HBV)-infected hepatocytes of chronic hepatitis B patients and recognize core (HBc18-27) and surface (HBs183-91) HBV epitopes associated with different human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-A*02 alleles (A*02:01, A*02:02, A*02:07, A*02:11) were generated. Each antibody was genetically linked to two IFNα molecules to produce TCR-L/IFNα fusion proteins. We demonstrate that the fusion proteins triggered an IFNα response preferentially on the hepatocytes presenting the correct HBV-peptide HLA-complex and that the mechanism of the targeted IFNα response was dependent on the specific binding of the fusion proteins to the HLA/HBV peptide complexes through the TCR-like variable regions of the antibodies. Conclusion: TCR-L antibodies can be used to target cytokines to HBV-infected hepatocytes in vitro. Fusion of IFNα to TCR-L decreased the intrinsic biological activity of IFNα but preserved the overall specificity of the protein for the cognate HBV peptide/HLA complexes. This induction of an effective IFNα response selectively in HBV-infected cells might have a therapeutic advantage in comparison to the currently used native or pegylated IFNα.
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