PLoS pathogens 2016 08 0312(8) e1005767 doi 10.1371/journal.ppat.1005767
In the context of HIV vaccine design and development, HIV-1 spike mimetics displaying a range of stabilities were evaluated to determine whether more stable, well-ordered trimers would more efficiently elicit neutralizing antibodies. To begin, in vitro analysis of trimers derived from the cysteine-stabilized SOSIP platform or the uncleaved, covalently linked NFL platform were evaluated. These native-like trimers, derived from HIV subtypes A, B, and C, displayed a range of thermostabilities, and were "stress-tested" at varying temperatures as a prelude to in vivo immunogenicity. Analysis was performed both in the absence and in the presence of two different adjuvants. Since partial trimer degradation was detected at 37°C before or after formulation with adjuvant, we sought to remedy such an undesirable outcome. Cross-linking (fixing) of the well-ordered trimers with glutaraldehyde increased overall thermostability, maintenance of well-ordered trimer integrity without or with adjuvant, and increased resistance to solid phase-associated trimer unfolding. Immunization of unfixed and fixed well-ordered trimers into animals revealed that the elicited tier 2 autologous neutralizing activity correlated with overall trimer thermostability, or melting temperature (Tm). Glutaraldehyde fixation also led to higher tier 2 autologous neutralization titers. These results link retention of trimer quaternary packing with elicitation of tier 2 autologous neutralizing activity, providing important insights for HIV-1 vaccine design.