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Virology. 2000 Jan 5;266(1):66-78.

Immunogenic and antigenic dominance of a nonneutralizing epitope over a highly conserved neutralizing epitope in the gp41 envelope glycoprotein of human immunodeficiency virus type 1: its deletion leads to a strong neutralizing response.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL, United Kingdom.


The Kennedy peptide, (731)PRGPDRPEGIEEEGGERDRDRS(752), from the cytoplasmic domain of the gp41 transmembrane envelope glycoprotein of HIV-1 contains a conformationally dependent neutralizing epitope (ERDRD) and a linear nonneutralizing epitope (IEEE). No recognized murine T cell epitope is present. The peptide usually stimulates virus-specific antibody, but this is not always neutralizing. Here we show that IEEE (or possibly IEEE plus adjacent sequence) is immunogenically and antigenically dominant over the ERDRD neutralizing epitope. Thus rabbits immunized in a variety of routes, doses, and adjuvants with a chimeric cowpea mosaic virus (CPMV) expressing the Kennedy peptide on its surface (CPMV-HIV/1) synthesized IEEE-specific serum antibody but no ERDRD-specific or HIV-1-neutralizing antibody. To test if this resulted from immunodominance or from a hole in the antibody repertoire, we immunized rabbits with chimera CPMV-HIV/29, which expresses the GERDRDR part of the Kennedy sequence. This chimera readily stimulated ERDRD-specific, neutralizing antibody. In mice the situation was less extreme, but individual animals with low neutralizing titers had a high ratio of IEEE-specific:ERDRD-specific antibody. Data are consistent with immunodominance of IEEE over ERDRD in the Kennedy peptide. IEEE-specific antibody was also antigenically dominant and prevented ERDRD-specific antibody from binding to its epitope and from neutralizing HIV-1. It may be that HIV-1 has evolved a nonneutralizing immunodominant epitope that allows it to possess a neutralizing epitope without suffering the consequences, and this idea is supported by the covariance of both epitope sequences. To our knowledge this is the first example of a defined sequence that controls the activity of an adjacent epitope.

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