Journal of virology 2017 02 15() pii 10.1128/JVI.02422-16
The development of an effective maternal HIV-1 vaccine that could synergize with antiretroviral therapy (ART) to eliminate pediatric HIV-1 infection will require the characterization of maternal immune responses capable of blocking transmission of autologous HIV viruses to the infant. We previously identified that maternal plasma antibody binding to linear epitopes within the variable loop 3 (V3) region of HIV envelope (Env) and neutralizing responses against easy to neutralize tier 1 viruses were associated with reduced risk of peripartum HIV infection in the historic U.S. Woman and Infant Transmission Study (WITS) cohort. Here, we defined the fine-specificity and function of the potentially-protective maternal V3-specific IgG antibodies associated with reduced peripartum HIV transmission risk in this cohort. The V3-specific IgG binding that predicted low risk of mother-to-child-transmission (MTCT) was dependent on the C-terminal flank of the V3 crown and particularly on amino acid position 317, a residue that has also been associated with breakthrough transmission in the RV144 vaccine trial. Remarkably, the fine-specificity of potentially-protective maternal plasma V3-specific tier 1 virus neutralizing responses was dependent on the same region in the V3 loop. Our findings suggest that MTCT risk is associated with neutralizing maternal IgG that target amino acid residues in the C-terminal region of the V3 loop crown, suggesting the importance of this region in immunogen design for maternal vaccines to prevent MTCT.IMPORTANCE Efforts to curb HIV-1 transmission in pediatric populations by antiretroviral therapy (ART) have been highly successful in both developed and developing countries. However, more than 150,000 infants continue to be infected each year likely due to a combination of late maternal HIV diagnosis, lack of ART access or adherence, and drug-resistant viral strains. Defining the fine-specificity of maternal humoral responses that partially protect against MTCT of HIV is required to inform the development of a maternal HIV vaccine that will enhance these responses during pregnancy. In this study, we identified amino acid residues targeted by potentially-protective maternal V3-specific IgG binding and neutralizing responses, localizing the potentially-protective response in the C terminal region of the V3 loop crown. Our findings have important implications in the design of maternal vaccination strategies that could synergize with ART during pregnancy to achieve the elimination of pediatric HIV infections.