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PLoS One. 2011 Jan 26;6(1):e16074. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016074.

Heterologous epitope-scaffold prime:boosting immuno-focuses B cell responses to the HIV-1 gp41 2F5 neutralization determinant.

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Vaccine Research Center, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, United States of America.


The HIV-1 envelope glycoproteins (Env) gp120 and gp41 mediate entry and are the targets for neutralizing antibodies. Within gp41, a continuous epitope defined by the broadly neutralizing antibody 2F5, is one of the few conserved sites accessible to antibodies on the functional HIV Env spike. Recently, as an initial attempt at structure-guided design, we transplanted the 2F5 epitope onto several non-HIV acceptor scaffold proteins that we termed epitope scaffolds (ES). As immunogens, these ES proteins elicited antibodies with exquisite binding specificity matching that of the 2F5 antibody. These novel 2F5 epitope scaffolds presented us with the opportunity to test heterologous prime:boost immunization strategies to selectively boost antibody responses against the engrafted gp41 2F5 epitope. Such strategies might be employed to target conserved but poorly immunogenic sites on the HIV-1 Env, and, more generally, other structurally defined pathogen targets. Here, we assessed ES prime:boosting by measuring epitope specific serum antibody titers by ELISA and B cell responses by ELISpot analysis using both free 2F5 peptide and an unrelated ES protein as probes. We found that the heterologous ES prime:boosting immunization regimen elicits cross-reactive humoral responses to the structurally constrained 2F5 epitope target, and that incorporating a promiscuous T cell helper epitope in the immunogens resulted in higher antibody titers against the 2F5 graft, but did not result in virus neutralization. Interestingly, two epitope scaffolds (ES1 and ES2), which did not elicit a detectable 2F5 epitope-specific response on their own, boosted such responses when primed with the ES5. Together, these results indicate that heterologous ES prime:boost immunization regimens effectively focus the humoral immune response on the structurally defined and immunogen-conserved HIV-1 2F5 epitope.

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