Journal of virology 2017 09 06() pii 10.1128/JVI.00862-17
Soluble envelope glycoprotein (Env) trimers (SOSIP.664 gp140) are attractive HIV-1 vaccine candidates, with structures that mimic the native membrane-bound Env spike (gp160). Since engineering trimers can be limited by the difficulty of rationally predicting beneficial mutations, here we used a more comprehensive mutagenesis approach with the goal of identifying trimer variants with improved antigenic and stability properties. We created 341 cysteine pairs at predicted points of stabilization throughout gp140, 149 proline residue substitutions at every residue of the gp41 ectodomain, and 362 space-filling residue substitutions at every hydrophobic and aromatic residue in gp140. The parental protein target, the clade B strain B41 SOSIP.664 gp140, does not bind the broadly neutralizing antibody PGT151, so was used here to identify improved variants that also provide insight into the structural basis for Env antigenicity. Each of the 852 mutants was expressed in human cells and screened for antigenicity using four different monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), including PGT151. We identified 29 trimer variants with antigenic improvements derived from each of the three mutagenesis strategies. We selected four variants (Q203F, T538F, I548F, and M629P) for more comprehensive biochemical, structural, and antigenicity analyses. The T538F substitution had the most beneficial effect overall, including restoration of the PGT151 epitope. The improved B41 SOSIP.664 trimer variants identified here may be useful for vaccine and structural studies.IMPORTANCE Soluble Env trimers have become attractive HIV-1 vaccine candidates, but the prototype designs are capable of further improvement through protein engineering. Using a high-throughput screening technology (shotgun mutagenesis) to create and evaluate 852 variants, we were able to identify sequence changes that were beneficial to the antigenicity and stability of soluble trimers based on the clade B B41 env gene. The strategies described here may be useful for identifying a wider range of antigenically and structurally improved soluble trimers based on multiple genotypes for use in programs intended to create a broadly protective HIV-1 vaccine.