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PLoS One. 2019 Aug 20;14(8):e0220986. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0220986. eCollection 2019.

Conjugation of an scFab domain to the oligomeric HIV envelope protein for use in immune targeting.

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Disease Elimination, Burnet Institute, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Infection and Immunity Program, Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute and Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Department of Microbiology, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.


A promising strategy for the enhancement of vaccine-mediated immune responses is by directly targeting protein antigens to immune cells. Targeting of antigens to the dendritic cell (DC) molecule Clec9A has been shown to enhance antibody affinity and titers for model antigens, and influenza and enterovirus antigens, and may be advantageous for immunogens that otherwise fail to elicit antibodies with sufficient titers and breadth for broad protection, such as the envelope protein (Env) of HIV. Previously employed targeting strategies often utilize receptor-specific antibodies, however it is impractical to conjugate a bivalent IgG antibody to oligomeric antigens, including HIV Env trimers. Here we designed single chain variable fragment (scFv) and single chain Fab (scFab) constructs of a Clec9A-targeting antibody, expressed as genetically fused conjugates with the soluble ectodomain of Env, gp140. This conjugation did not affect the presentation of Env neutralising antibody epitopes. The scFab moiety was shown to be more stable than scFv, and in the context of gp140 fusions, was able to mediate better binding to recombinant and cell surface-expressed Clec9A, although the level of binding to cell-surface Clec9A was lower than that of the anti-Clec9A IgG. However, binding to Clec9A on the surface of DCs was not detected. Mouse immunization experiments suggested that the Clec9A-binding activity of the scFab-gp140 conjugate was insufficient to enhance Env-specific antibody responses. This is an important first proof of principle study demonstrating the conjugation of a scFab to an oligomeric protein antigen, and that an scFab displays better antigen binding than the corresponding scFv. Future developments of this technique that increase the scFab affinity will provide a valuable means to target oligomeric proteins to cell surface antigens of interest, improving vaccine-generated immune responses.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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