Stabilization of the gp120 V3 loop through hydrophobic interactions reduces the immunodominant V3-directed non-neutralizing response to HIV-1 envelope trimers.
To provide protective immunity against circulating primary HIV-1 strains, a vaccine most likely has to induce broadly neutralizing antibodies to the HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein (Env) spike. Recombinant Env trimers such as the prototype BG505 SOSIP.664 that closely mimic the native Env spike can induce autologous neutralizing antibodies (NAbs) against relatively resistant (tier 2) primary viruses. Ideally, Env immunogens should present broadly neutralizing antibody epitopes but limit the presentation of immunodominant non-NAb epitopes that might induce off-target and potentially interfering responses. The V3 loop in gp120 is such a non-NAb epitope that can effectively elicit non-NAbs when animals are immunized with SOSIP.664 trimers. V3 immunogenicity can be diminished, but not abolished, by reducing the conformational flexibility of trimers via targeted sequence changes, including an A316W substitution in V3, that create the SOSIP.v4.1 and SOSIP.v5.2 variants. Here, we further modified these trimer designs by introducing leucine residues at V3 positions 306 and 308 to create hydrophobic interactions with the tryptophan residue at position 316 and with other topologically proximal sites in the V1V2 domain. Together, these modifications further stabilized the resulting SOSIP.v5.2 S306L/R308L trimers in the prefusion state in which V3 is sequestered. When we tested these trimers as immunogens in rabbits, the induction of V3 non-NAbs was significantly reduced compared with the SOSIP.v5.2 trimers and even more so compared with the SOSIP.664 prototype, without affecting the autologous NAb response. Hence, these additional trimer sequence modifications may be beneficial for immunization strategies that seek to minimize off-target non-NAb responses.
de Taeye, SW; de la Peña, AT; Vecchione, A; Scutigliani, E; Sliepen, K; Burger, JA; van der Woude, P; Schorcht, A; Schermer, EE; van Gils, MJ; LaBranche, CC; Montefiori, DC; Wilson, IA; Moore, JP; Ward, AB; Sanders, RW
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