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J Virol. 2012 Apr;86(8):4129-38. doi: 10.1128/JVI.06359-11. Epub 2012 Feb 1.

Passively transmitted gp41 antibodies in babies born from HIV-1 subtype C-seropositive women: correlation between fine specificity and protection.

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Division of Immunology, Transplantation and Infectious Diseases, San Raffaele Scientific Institute, Milan, Italy.


HIV-exposed, uninfected (EUN) babies born to HIV-infected mothers are examples of natural resistance to HIV infection. In this study, we evaluated the titer and neutralizing potential of gp41-specific maternal antibodies and their correlation with HIV transmission in HIV-infected mother-child pairs. Specific gp41-binding and -neutralizing antibodies were determined in a cohort of 74 first-time mother-child pairs, of whom 40 mothers were infected with HIV subtype C. Within the infected mother cohort, 16 babies were born infected and 24 were PCR negative and uninfected at birth (i.e., exposed but uninfected). Thirty-four HIV-uninfected and HIV-unexposed mother-child pairs were included as controls. All HIV-positive mothers and their newborns showed high IgG titers to linear epitopes within the HR1 region and to the membrane-proximal (MPER) domain of gp41; most sera also recognized the disulfide loop immunodominant epitope (IDE). Antibody titers to the gp41 epitopes were significantly lower in nontransmitting mothers (P < 0.01) and in the EUN babies (P < 0.005) than in HIV-positive mother-child pairs. Three domains of gp41, HR1, IDE, and MPER, elicited antibodies that were effectively transmitted to EUN babies. Moreover, in EUN babies, epitopes overlapping the 2F5 epitope (ELDKWAS), but not the 4E10 epitope, were neutralization targets in two out of four viruses tested. Our findings highlight important epitopes in gp41 that appear to be associated with exposure without infection and would be important to consider for vaccine design.

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