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J Virol. 2010 Mar;84(5):2573-84. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01687-09. Epub 2009 Dec 16.

Comparative immunogenicity of subtype a Human Immunodeficiency Virus type 1 envelope exhibiting differential exposure of conserved neutralization epitopes.

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Division of Human Biology, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Washington 98109-1024, USA.


Development of broadly cross-reactive neutralizing antibodies (NAbs) remains a major goal of HIV-1 vaccine development, but most candidate envelope immunogens have had limited ability to cross-neutralize heterologous strains. To evaluate the immunogenicity of subtype A variants of HIV-1, rabbits were immunized with pairs of closely related subtype A envelopes from the same individual. In each immunogen pair, one variant was readily neutralized by a variety of monoclonal antibodies and plasma antibodies, while the other was neutralization resistant, suggesting differences in the exposures of key epitopes. The breadth of the antibody response was evaluated against subtype A, B, C, and D variants of HIV-1. The specificity of the immunogen-derived neutralizing antibody response was also compared to that of the infected individuals from whom these variants were cloned. None of the immunogens produced broad neutralizing antibodies in immunized animals, and most of the neutralizing antibodies were directed to the variable loops, particularly the V3 loop. No detectable antibodies to either of the potentially exposed conserved epitopes, the membrane proximal external region, or the CD4 binding site were found with immunized rabbits. In contrast, relatively little of the neutralizing activity within the plasma samples of the infected individuals was directed to linear epitopes within the variable loops. These data indicate that immunogens designed to expose conserved regions did not enhance generation of broadly neutralizing antibodies in comparison with the immunogens that failed to expose those regions using this immunization approach.

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