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J Virol. 2014 Mar;88(5):2645-57. doi: 10.1128/JVI.03228-13. Epub 2013 Dec 18.

Diverse recombinant HIV-1 Envs fail to activate B cells expressing the germline B cell receptors of the broadly neutralizing anti-HIV-1 antibodies PG9 and 447-52D.

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Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, Seattle, Washington, USA.


Broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) against HIV-1 are generated during HIV-1-infection but have not yet been elicited by immunization with recombinant forms of the viral envelope glycoprotein (Env; the target of anti-HIV-1 neutralizing antibodies). A particular type of bNAb targets the CD4-binding site (CD4-BS) region of Env. These antibodies are derived from a limited number of VH/VL genes and can bind to and neutralize diverse HIV-1 strains. Recent reports have demonstrated the limited potential of Env to activate B cells expressing the germline B cell receptor (BCR) forms of anti-CD4-BS bNAbs. A potential reason for the lack of elicitation of anti-CD4-BS bNAbs by Env immunogens is the absence of stimulation of naive B cells expressing the germline BCRs of such antibodies. Several bNAbs have been isolated from HIV-1-infected subjects that target other structurally conserved regions of Env. How frequently Env immunogens stimulate the germline BCRs that give rise to bNAbs that target Env regions other than the CD4-BS is not well understood. Here, we investigated the interactions between diverse Envs and the BCRs of known bNAbs targeting not only the CD4-BS but also conserved elements of the second and third variable Env regions. Our results indicate that Env is generally ineffective in engaging germline BCRs of bNAbs irrespective of their epitope target. Potentially, this is the result of viral evolutionary mechanisms adopted to escape broadly neutralizing antibody responses. Our results also suggest that a single Env capable of activating germline BCRs that target distinct Env epitopes will be very difficult to identify or to design.


Broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV-1 are thought to be an important component of the immune responses that a successful vaccine should elicit. Broadly neutralizing antibodies are generated by a subset of those infected by HIV-1, but so far, they have not been generated by immunization with recombinant Envelope (Env, the target of anti-HIV-1 neutralizing antibodies). Here, we provide evidence that the inability of Env to elicit the production of broadly neutralizing antibodies is due to the inability of diverse Envs to engage the germline B cell receptor forms of known broadly neutralizing antibodies.

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