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AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 2000 Dec 10;16(18):1997-2008.

Construction, biological activity, and immunogenicity of synthetic envelope DNA vaccines based on a primary, CCR5-tropic, early HIV type 1 isolate (BX08) with human codons.

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Department of Virology Statens Serum Institute, DK-2300 Copenhagen, Denmark.


So far codon-optimized HIV-1 envelope genes have been investigated for the T cell line-adapted strain MN, which differs in several aspects from primary isolates. Envelopes of primary isolates may be more relevant for vaccine purposes. This article describes for the first time the engineering and characterization of four "humanized" genes encoding the secreted gp120/gp140, or the membrane-bound gp150/gp160, of a primary CCR5 tropic, clade B, clinical isolate HIV-1(BX08). The genes were built in fragments for easy cassette exchange of regions important for immunogenicity, function, and expression. The transcription and expression of the synthetic genes in mammalian cell lines were Rev independent and highly increased. Increased expression of membrane-bound gp160 induced a high cytopathic effect in U87.CD4.CCR5 cells. Gene gun and intramuscular DNA vaccination in mice induced a strong specific cytotoxic T lymphocyte response independent of the gene construct, expression level, or DNA immunization route. In contrast, the highest anti-gp120 antibody levels were induced by synthetic genes encoding the secreted glycoproteins followed by gp160/gp150. Unlike HIV-1(MN), HIV-1(BX08) V3 was not immune dominant. Despite the high antibody response only low and inconsistent neutralizing titers to the homologous HIV-1 isolate were measured. However, neutralization of SHIV89.6P could be obtained. Thus, the neutralizing epitopes on the cell line-adapted SHIV89.6P and HIV-1(MN) may be more antigenically available for the cross-neutralizing antibodies induced. In conclusion, complete "humanization" of the DNA vaccine genes failed to induce a consistent neutralizing antibody response, albeit expression and immunogenicity of the primary HIV-1 glycoproteins were greatly improved. Optimization in terms of improving neutralization may require further modifications of the DNA vaccine gene. The synthetic cassette construct described is a convenient tool developed to investigate this further.

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