Attacking pathogens' Achilles heel to fight infectious diseases
Pathogens have evolved numerous methods to evade the host’s immune responses:
- Mutation, to evade immune responses
- Immunodominance, to distract immune responses
- Steric shielding, to physically block immune responses
Despite these effective techniques, recent research efforts have uncovered genetically conserved “sites of vulnerability” on pathogens, against which effective immune responses may be generated. Targeting a pathogen’s sites of vulnerability holds promise because pathogens cannot mutate these sites without compromising their fitness.
Focusing the immune response against sites of vulnerability
Because these conserved sites of vulnerability are so critical to a pathogen’s existence, they use immunodominant decoy epitopes and steric shielding to hide these epitopes from host immune responses. However, structural vaccinologists have designed synthetic peptides recapitulating the minimal epitopes of pathogens’ sites of vulnerability. As immunogens, these constructs lay bare a pathogen’s neutralizing sites as prime targets for immune responses.