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J Virol. 1996 Feb;70(2):753-62.

Humoral response to oligomeric human immunodeficiency virus type 1 envelope protein.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia 19104, USA.


The humoral immune response to human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) is often studied by using monomeric or denatured envelope proteins (Env). However, native HIV-1 Env complexes that maintain quaternary structure elicit immune responses that are qualitatively distinct from those seen with monomeric or denatured Env. To more accurately assess the levels and types of antibodies elicited by HIV-1 infection, we developed an antigen capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay using a soluble, oligomeric form of HIV-1IIIB Env (gp140) that contains gp120 and the gp41 ectodomain. The gp140, captured by various monoclonal antibodies (MAbs), retained its native oligomeric structure: it bound CD4 and was recognized by MAbs to conformational epitopes in gp120 and gp41, including oligomer-specific epitopes in gp41. We compared the reactivities of clade B and clade E serum samples to captured Env preparations and found that while both reacted equally well with oligomeric gp140, clade B seras reacted more strongly with monomeric gp120 than did clade E samples. However, these differences were minimized when gp120 was captured by a V3 loop MAb, which may lead to increased exposure of the CD4 binding site. We also measured the ability of serum samples to block binding of MAbs to epitopes in gp120 and gp41. Clade B serum samples consistently blocked binding of oligomer-dependent MAbs to gp41 and, to a slightly lesser extent, MAbs to the CD4 binding site in gp120. Clade E serum samples showed equivalent or greater blocking of oligomer-dependent gp41 antibodies and considerably less blocking of CD4-binding-site MAbs. Finally, we found that < 5% of the antibodies in clade B sera bound to epitopes present only in monomeric gp120, 30% bound to epitopes present in both monomeric gp120 and oligomeric gp140, and 70% bound to epitopes present in oligomeric gp140, which includes gp41. Thus, captured oligomeric Env closely reflects the antigenic characteristics of Env protein on the surface of virions and infected cells, retains highly conserved epitopes that are recognized by antibodies raised against different clades, and makes it possible to detect a much greater fraction of total anti-HIV-1 Env activity in sera than does native monomeric gp120.

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