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Virology. 1994 Nov 1;204(2):609-15.

Antibodies to the HIV-1 V3 loop in serum from infected persons contribute a major proportion of immune effector functions including complement activation, antibody binding, and neutralization.

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Department of Immunology/Microbiology, Rush Medical School, Chicago, Illinois 60612.


Previous studies have shown that the V3 region of the HIV envelope is both critical to viral functions and immunogenic. However, the relative contribution of anti-V3 antibodies in the sera of infected individuals in mediating immune effector functions directed at whole intact virus and infected cells has not been determined. This study used peptides corresponding to several regions of the HIV envelope as inhibitors of antibody binding and antibody effector functions directed at virions and virus-infected cells in order to assess the relative importance of V3-specific antibodies in sera from infected persons. Approximately 40% of the antibody in serum which could bind to native viral proteins on HIVMN-infected cells was blocked by a peptide corresponding to the central 15 amino acids of the V3 loop. In contrast, little if any blocking of serum antibody binding was observed with peptides corresponding to flanking regions of HIVMN V3 or three regions of gp41. Since antiviral antibody can also activate immune effector functions, we determined whether peptides could block antibody-dependent activation of the complement system by HIV-infected cells or free virus. Surprisingly, the V3 loop peptide blocked 75-95% of complement activation on HIV-infected cells. While the V3 loop peptide also blocked a substantial portion of the neutralizing activity in serum from infected persons for free virus it was again more effective in inhibiting complement-mediated effects on free virus. Accordingly, antibody-dependent, complement-mediated virolysis was inhibited by 61-79%. The results of these experiments indicate that (1) a substantial portion (30-40%) of the antibody in sera from infected persons that is capable of binding to HIV-infected cells and HIV virions is V3-specific, and (2) these V3-specific antibodies are particularly important for complement activation on infected cells and virions. This indicates that the central portion of the V3 loop, while constituting less than 3% of the amino acid sequence of the HIV envelope, apparently provides a major gp160 site for immune effector functions, especially complement activation.

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