Vaccines elicit immune responses, provide protection against microorganisms and are considered as one of the most successful medical interventions against infectious diseases. Vaccines can be produced using attenuated virus or bacteria, recombinant proteins, bacterial polysaccharides, carbohydrates or plasmid DNA. Conventional vaccines rely on the induction of immune responses against antigenic proteins to be effective. The genetic diversity of microorganisms, coupled with the high degree of sequence variability in antigenic proteins, presents a challenge to developing broadly effective conventional vaccines.
The observation that an efficacious immune response does not require the recognition of whole protein antigens and therefore are not necessarily essential for inducing immunity has led to the emergence of a new branch of vaccine design termed ‘structural vaccinology’. Structure-based vaccines are designed on the rationale that protective epitopes should be sufficient to induce immune responses and provide protection against pathogens.
The main objective of a rational vaccine strategy is to design novel immunogens that are capable of inducing long-term protective immunity. In practice, this requires structure-based engineering of the target neutralizing epitopes and a quantitative understanding of vaccine-induced immune responses.
Therefore, in-silico computational tools facilitate the combination of immunology, structural biology, and bioinformatics, such that antigenic epitopes can be identified and be sufficient to induce protective immunity.