Journal of virology 2017 09 1291(19) pii 10.1128/JVI.00811-17
Strategies are needed to improve the immunogenicity of HIV-1 envelope (Env) antigens (Ag) for more long-lived, efficacious HIV-1 vaccine-induced B-cell responses. HIV-1 Env gp140 (native or uncleaved molecules) or gp120 monomeric proteins elicit relatively poor B-cell responses which are short-lived. We hypothesized that Env engagement of the CD4 receptor on T-helper cells results in anergic effects on T-cell recruitment and consequently a lack of strong, robust, and durable B-memory responses. To test this hypothesis, we occluded the CD4 binding site (CD4bs) of gp140 by stable cross-linking with a 3-kDa CD4 miniprotein mimetic, serving to block ligation of gp140 on CD4(+) T cells while preserving CD4-inducible (CDi) neutralizing epitopes targeted by antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC) effector responses. Importantly, immunization of rhesus macaques consistently gave superior B-cell (P < 0.001) response kinetics and superior ADCC (P < 0.014) in a group receiving the CD4bs-occluded vaccine compared to those of animals immunized with gp140. Of the cytokines examined, Ag-specific interleukin-4 (IL-4) T-helper enzyme-linked immunosorbent spot (ELISpot) assays of the CD4bs-occluded group increased earlier (P = 0.025) during the inductive phase. Importantly, CD4bs-occluded gp140 antigen induced superior B-cell and ADCC responses, and the elevated B-cell responses proved to be remarkably durable, lasting more than 60 weeks postimmunization.IMPORTANCE Attempts to develop HIV vaccines capable of inducing potent and durable B-cell responses have been unsuccessful until now. Antigen-specific B-cell development and affinity maturation occurs in germinal centers in lymphoid follicles through a critical interaction between B cells and T follicular helper cells. The HIV envelope binds the CD4 receptor on T cells as soluble shed antigen or as antigen-antibody complexes, causing impairment in the activation of these specialized CD4-positive T cells. We proposed that CD4-binding impairment is partly responsible for the relatively poor B-cell responses to HIV envelope-based vaccines. To test this hypothesis, we blocked the CD4 binding site of the envelope antigen and compared it to currently used unblocked envelope protein. We found superior and durable B-cell responses in macaques vaccinated with an occluded CD4 binding site on the HIV envelope antigen, demonstrating a potentially important new direction in future design of new HIV vaccines.