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PLoS One. 2010 Jan 5;5(1):e8555. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0008555.

A strategy for eliciting antibodies against cryptic, conserved, conformationally dependent epitopes of HIV envelope glycoprotein.

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Department of Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York, United States of America.



Novel strategies are needed for the elicitation of broadly neutralizing antibodies to the HIV envelope glycoprotein, gp120. Experimental evidence suggests that combinations of antibodies that are broadly neutralizing in vitro may protect against challenge with HIV in nonhuman primates, and a small number of these antibodies have been selected by repertoire sampling of B cells and by the fractionation of antiserum from some patients with prolonged disease. Yet no additional strategies for identifying conserved epitopes, eliciting antibodies to these epitopes, and determining whether these epitopes are accessible to antibodies have been successful to date. The defining of additional conserved, accessible epitopes against which one can elicit antibodies will increase the probability that some may be the targets of broadly neutralizing antibodies.


We postulate that additional cryptic epitopes of gp120 are present, against which neutralizing antibodies might be elicited even though these antibodies are not elicited by gp120, and that many of these epitopes may be accessible to antibodies should they be formed. We demonstrate a strategy for eliciting antibodies in mice against selected cryptic, conformationally dependent conserved epitopes of gp120 by immunizing with multiple identical copies of covalently linked peptides (MCPs). This has been achieved with MCPs representing 3 different domains of gp120. We show that some cryptic epitopes on gp120 are accessible to the elicited antibodies, and some epitopes in the CD4 binding region are not accessible. The antibodies bind to gp120 with relatively high affinity, and bind to oligomeric gp120 on the surface of infected cells.


Immunization with MCPs comprised of selected peptides of HIV gp120 is able to elicit antibodies against conserved, conformationally dependent epitopes of gp120 that are not immunogenic when presented as gp120. Some of these cryptic epitopes are accessible to the elicited antibodies.

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