Germline-like predecessors of broadly neutralizing antibodies lack measurable binding to HIV-1 envelope glycoproteins: implications for evasion of immune responses and design of vaccine immunogens.

Protein Interactions Group, CCRNP, NCI-Frederick, NIH, Frederick, MD 21702, USA.
Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications (Impact Factor: 2.28). 09/2009; 390(3):404-9. DOI: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2009.09.029
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Several human monoclonal antibodies (hmAbs) including b12, 2G12, and 2F5 exhibit relatively potent and broad HIV-1-neutralizing activity. However, their elicitation in vivo by vaccine immunogens based on the HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein (Env) has not been successful. We have hypothesized that HIV-1 has evolved a strategy to reduce or eliminate the immunogenicity of the highly conserved epitopes of such antibodies by using "holes" (absence or very weak binding to these epitopes of germline antibodies that is not sufficient to initiate and/or maintain an efficient immune response) in the human germline B cell receptor (BCR) repertoire. To begin to test this hypothesis we have designed germline-like antibodies corresponding most closely to b12, 2G12, and 2F5 as well as to X5, m44, and m46 which are cross-reactive but with relatively modest neutralizing activity as natively occurring antibodies due to size and/or other effects. The germline-like X5, m44, and m46 bound with relatively high affinity to all tested Envs. In contrast, germline-like b12, 2G12, and 2F5 lacked measurable binding to Envs in an ELISA assay although the corresponding mature antibodies did. These results provide initial evidence that Env structures containing conserved vulnerable epitopes may not initiate humoral responses by binding to germline antibodies. Even if such responses are initiated by very weak binding undetectable in our assay it is likely that they will be outcompeted by responses to structures containing the epitopes of X5, m44, m46, and other antibodies that bind germline BCRs with much higher affinity/avidity. This hypothesis, if further supported by data, could contribute to our understanding of how HIV-1 evades immune responses and offer new concepts for design of effective vaccine immunogens.

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