Research Article

Priming a broadly neutralizing antibody response to HIV-1 using a germline-targeting immunogen

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Science  10 Jul 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6244, pp. 156-161
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac5894

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Steps in the right direction

HIV-1 mutates rapidly, making it difficult to design a vaccine that will protect people against all of the virus' iterations. A potential successful vaccine design might protect by eliciting broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs), which target specific regions on HIV-1's trimeric envelope glycoprotein (Env) (see the Perspective by Mascola). Jardine et al. used mice engineered to express germline-reverted heavy chains of a particular bNAb and immunized them with an Env-based immunogen designed to bind to precursors of that bNAb. Sanders et al. compared rabbits and monkeys immunized with Env trimers that adopt a nativelike conformation. In both cases, immunized animals produced antibodies that shared similarities with bNAbs. Boosting these animals with other immunogens may drive these antibodies to further mutate into the longsought bNAbs. Chen et al. report that retaining the cytoplasmic domain of Env proteins may be important to attract bNAbs. Removing the cytoplasmic domain may distract the immune response and instead generate antibodies that target epitopes on Env that would not lead to protection.

Science, this issue p. 139, 10.1126/science.aac4223, p. 156; see also p. 191

Abstract

A major goal of HIV-1 vaccine research is the design of immunogens capable of inducing broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs) that bind to the viral envelope glycoprotein (Env). Poor binding of Env to unmutated precursors of bnAbs, including those of the VRC01 class, appears to be a major problem for bnAb induction. We engineered an immunogen that binds to VRC01-class bnAb precursors and immunized knock-in mice expressing germline-reverted VRC01 heavy chains. Induced antibodies showed characteristics of VRC01-class bnAbs, including a short CDRL3 (light-chain complementarity-determining region 3) and mutations that favored binding to near-native HIV-1 gp120 constructs. In contrast, native-like immunogens failed to activate VRC01-class precursors. The results suggest that rational epitope design can prime rare B cell precursors for affinity maturation to desired targets.

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