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PLoS One. 2019 Apr 17;14(4):e0215163. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0215163. eCollection 2019.

Consistent elicitation of cross-clade HIV-neutralizing responses achieved in guinea pigs after fusion peptide priming by repetitive envelope trimer boosting.

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Vaccine Research Center, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, United States of America.
Duke Human Vaccine Institute, Duke School of Medicine, Durham, North Carolina, United States of America.
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Columbia University, New York, New York, United States of America.


The vaccine elicitation of broadly neutralizing responses is a central goal of HIV research. Recently, we elicited cross-clade neutralizing responses against the N terminus of the fusion peptide (FP), a critical component of the HIV-entry machinery. While the consistency of the elicited cross-clade neutralizing responses was good in mice, it was poor in guinea pigs: after seven immunizations comprising either envelope (Env) trimer or FP coupled to a carrier, serum from only one of five animals could neutralize a majority of a cross-clade panel of 19 wild-type strains. Such a low response rate-only 20%-made increasing consistency an imperative. Here, we show that additional Env-trimer immunizations could boost broad FP-directed neutralizing responses in a majority of immunized animals. The first boost involved a heterologous Env trimer developed from the transmitted founder clade C strain of donor CH505, and the second boost involved a cocktail that combined the CH505 trimer with a trimer from the BG505 strain. After boosting, sera from three of five animals neutralized a majority of the 19-strain panel and serum from a fourth animal neutralized 8 strains. We demonstrate that cross-reactive serum neutralization targeted the FP by blocking neutralization with soluble fusion peptide. The FP competition revealed two categories of elicited responses: an autologous response to the BG505 strain of high potency (~10,000 ID50), which was not competed by soluble FP, and a heterologous response of lower potency, which was competed by soluble FP. While the autologous response could increase rapidly in response to Env-trimer boost, the heterologous neutralizing response increased more slowly. Overall, repetitive Env-trimer immunizations appeared to boost low titer FP-carrier primed responses to detectable levels, yielding cross-clade neutralization. The consistent trimer-boosted neutralizing responses described here add to accumulating evidence for the vaccine utility of the FP site of HIV vulnerability.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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