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J Virol. 2011 Jul;85(14):6986-95. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00268-11. Epub 2011 May 18.

Longer V1V2 region with increased number of potential N-linked glycosylation sites in the HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein protects against HIV-specific neutralizing antibodies.

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Department of Experimental Immunology, Academic Medical Center, M01-120, Meibergdreef 9, 1105 AZ Amsterdam, Netherlands.


Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) has the ability to adapt to the host environment by escaping from host immune responses. We previously observed that escape from humoral immunity, both at the individual and at a population level, coincided with longer variable loops and an increased number of potential N-linked glycosylation sites (PNGS) in the viral envelope glycoprotein (Env) and, in particular, in variable regions 1 and 2 (V1V2). Here, we provide several lines of evidence for the role of V1V2 in the resistance of HIV-1 to neutralizing antibodies. First, we determined that the increasing neutralization resistance of a reference panel of tier-categorized neutralization-sensitive and -resistant HIV-1 variants coincided with a longer V1V2 loop containing more PNGS. Second, an exchange of the different variable regions of Env from a neutralization-sensitive HIV-1 variant into a neutralization-resistant escape variant from the same individual revealed that the V1V2 loop is a strong determinant for sensitivity to autologous-serum neutralization. Third, exchange of the V1V2 loop of neutralization-sensitive HIV-1 variants from historical seroconverters with the V1V2 loop of neutralization-resistant HIV-1 variants from contemporary seroconverters decreased the neutralization sensitivity to CD4-binding site-directed antibodies. Overall, we demonstrate that an increase in the length of the V1V2 loop and/or the number of PNGS in that same region of the HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein is directly involved in the protection of HIV-1 against HIV-specific neutralizing antibodies, possibly by shielding underlying epitopes in the envelope glycoprotein from antibody recognition.

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