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Immunity. 2008 Jan;28(1):52-63. doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2007.11.018.

HIV-1 broadly neutralizing antibody extracts its epitope from a kinked gp41 ectodomain region on the viral membrane.

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Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Although rarely elicited during natural human infection, the most broadly neutralizing antibodies (BNAbs) against diverse human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-1 strains target the membrane-proximal ectodomain region (MPER) of viral gp41. To gain insight into MPER antigenicity, immunogenicity, and viral function, we studied its structure in the lipid environment by a combination of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR), and surface plasmon resonance (SPR) techniques. The analyses revealed a tilted N-terminal alpha helix (aa 664-672) connected via a short hinge to a flat C-terminal helical segment (675-683). This metastable L-shaped structure is immersed in viral membrane and, therefore, less accessible to immune attack. Nonetheless, the 4E10 BNAb extracts buried W672 and F673 after initial encounter with the surface-embedded MPER. The data suggest how BNAbs may perturb tryptophan residue-associated viral fusion involving the mobile N-terminal MPER segment and, given conservation of MPER sequences in HIV-1, HIV-2, and SIV, have important implications for structure-guided vaccine design.

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