One of the major challenges in the field of subunit vaccine design is to identify the antigenic regions (B and T cell epitopes) that can generate antigen specific memory cells. Thus, the identification of regions/stretches on an antigen from the data pool of known epitopes is an important step in vaccine design. The Bcipep database would be very useful as it consists of comprehensive information about experimentally verified linear B-cell epitopes and tools for mapping these epitopes on an antigen sequence. In case query antigen contains known epitopes, this database might aid in the wet experimentation and lower the cost by reducing the overlapping repeats. This strategy is frequently used for the screening of transgenic proteins by searching linear IgE-binding epitopes [22
]. Unlike discontinuous epitopes, the linear epitopes are easy to design, as they do not require tertiary structure information. Bcipep also provides information on neutralizing B-cell epitopes where an antibody generated against a B-cell epitope neutralizes the parent antigen. The current version of Bcipep provides neutralizing information on about 1309 such B-cell epitopes. This information is very important for selecting functional B-cell epitopes. This database also provides a link with MHCBN to search for overlapping regions of MHC binders and T-cell epitopes in the B-cell epitopes. Thus, the user can identify both antigenic regions that can activate B-cell and T-cell, which can lead to the development of better vaccine. The epitopes in Bcipep can be used to derive the rules for predicting B-cell epitopes.
The aim of designing synthetic linear peptides as epitope-vaccine is to induce neutralizing antibodies against the pathogen [23
]. There are many reports that the linear B-cell epitopes were characterized as neutralizing antibodies as in Clostridium botulinum neurotoxin type A (Btx A)[24
]. In Bcipep, there are 748 neutralizing anti-peptide antibodies entries. However, in some cases these linear epitope(s) fail to produce neutralizing antibodies and do not give protective immunity. For instance, it has been shown in the past that the antibodies against the synthetic peptides and short recombinant proteins of approximately 100 amino acids of hepatitis E virus (HEV) do not neutralize, suggesting that the HEV neutralization epitope(s) is conformation dependent [25
]. The elicitation of a bactericidal and protective immune response to Borrelia burgdoferi
decorin binding protein requires a properly folded conformation for the production of functional antibodies [26
]. Recently, Corcoran et al
, 2004, observed that B-cell memory is established and maintained against conformational epitopes of Parvovirus VP2 and against linear epitopes of VP1 but not against linear epitope VP2 [27
]. Thus, it is not necessary that the linear B-cell epitope will always give rise to memory cells. One should also check the neutralizing information of B-epitopes, as only 748 B-cell epitopes out of 1309 in Bcipep were able to neutralize the parent protein.
For an effective use of Bcipep, it is important to understand the limitation of linear B-cell epitopes and data in Bcipep. The few limitations of current version of Bcipep are; i) it does not cover discontinuous epitopes, ii) it has limited number of unique peptides (1590) in 3031 entries and, iii) it contains peptides having only natural amino acids. One should be careful in using linear B-cell epitopes in developing epitope based subunit vaccine. The organism used for immunization (information included in the database) should also be taken into consideration, since immune response is T-helper cell (MHC-II-peptide complex) dependant and B-cell epitope alone may not generate protective antibodies [28
]. In some cases, the nature of the adjuvant used and the route of immunization (information not included in the database) might also play important roles in the induction of protective anti-peptide antibody response against the pathogen [29