Journal of virology 2018 02 1292(5) pii 10.1128/JVI.01796-17
Trimeric HIV-1 envelope (Env) immunogens are attractive due to their ability to display quaternary epitopes targeted by broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) while obscuring unfavorable epitopes. Results from the RV144 trial highlighted the importance of vaccine-induced HIV-1 Env V1V2-directed antibodies, with key regions of the V2 loop as targets for vaccine-mediated protection. We recently reported that a trimeric JRFL-gp120 immunogen, generated by inserting an N-terminal trimerization domain in the V1 loop region of a cyclically permuted gp120 (cycP-gp120), induces neutralizing activity against multiple tier-2 HIV-1 isolates in guinea pigs in a DNA prime/protein boost approach. Here, we tested the immunogenicity of cycP-gp120 in a protein prime/boost approach in rabbits and as a booster immunization to DNA/modified vaccinia Ankara (MVA)-vaccinated rabbits and rhesus macaques. In rabbits, two cycP-gp120 protein immunizations induced 100-fold higher titers of high-avidity gp120-specific IgG than two gp120 immunizations, with four total gp120 immunizations being required to induce comparable titers. cycP-gp120 also induced markedly enhanced neutralizing activity against tier-1A and -1B HIV-1 isolates, substantially higher binding and breadth to gp70-V1V2 scaffolds derived from a multiclade panel of global HIV-1 isolates, and antibodies targeting key regions of the V2-loop region associated with reduced risk of infection in RV144. Similarly, boosting MVA- or DNA/MVA-primed rabbits or rhesus macaques with cycP-gp120 showed a robust expansion of gp70-V1V2-specific IgG, neutralization breadth to tier-1B HIV-1 isolates, and antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity activity. These results demonstrate that cycP-gp120 serves as a robust HIV Env immunogen that induces broad anti-V1V2 antibodies and promotes neutralization breadth against HIV-1.Recent focus in HIV-1 vaccine development has been the design of trimeric HIV-1 Env immunogens that closely resemble native HIV-1 Env, with a major goal being the induction of bNAbs. While the generation of bNAbs is considered a gold standard in vaccine-induced antibody responses, results from the RV144 trial showed that nonneutralizing antibodies directed toward the V1V2 loop of HIV-1 gp120, specifically the V2 loop region, were associated with decreased risk of infection, demonstrating the need for the development of Env immunogens that induce a broad anti-V1V2 antibody response. In this study, we show that a novel trimeric gp120 protein, cycP-gp120, generates high titers of high-avidity and broadly cross-reactive anti-V1V2 antibodies, a result not found in animals immunized with monomeric gp120. These results reveal the potential of cycP-gp120 as a vaccine candidate to induce antibodies associated with reduced risk of HIV-1 infection in humans.