Strong antibody (Ab) responses against V1V2 epitopes of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) gp120 envelope (Env) correlated with reduced infection rates in studies of HIV, simian-human immunodeficiency virus (SHIV), and simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV). In order to focus the Ab response on V1V2, we used six V1V2 sequences and nine scaffold proteins to construct immunogens which were tested using various immunization regimens for their ability to induce cross-reactive and biologically active V2 Abs in rabbits. A prime/boost immunization strategy was employed using gp120 DNA and various V1V2-scaffold proteins. The rabbit polyclonal Ab responses (i) were successfully focused on the V1V2 region, with weak or only transient responses to other Env epitopes, (ii) displayed broad cross-reactive binding activity with gp120s and the V1V2 regions of diverse strains from clades B, C, and E, (iii) included V2 Abs with specificities similar to those found in HIV-infected individuals, and (iv) remained detectable ≥1 year after the last boosting dose. Importantly, sera from rabbits receiving V1V2-scaffold immunogens displayed Ab-dependent cellular phagocytosis whereas sera from rabbits receiving only gp120 did not. The results represent the first fully successful example of reverse vaccinology in the HIV vaccine field with rationally designed epitope scaffold immunogens inducing Abs that recapitulate the epitope specificity and biologic activity of the human monoclonal Abs from which the immunogens were designed. Moreover, this is the first immunogenicity study using epitope-targeting, rationally designed vaccine constructs that induced an Fc-mediated activity associated with protection from infection with HIV, SIV, and SHIV.
Novel immunogens were designed to focus the antibody response of rabbits on the V1V2 epitopes of HIV-1 gp120 since such antibodies were associated with reduced infection rates of HIV, SIV, and SHIV. The vaccine-induced antibodies were broadly cross-reactive with the V1V2 regions of HIV subtypes B, C and E and, importantly, facilitated Fc-mediated phagocytosis, an activity not induced upon immunization of rabbits with gp120. This is the first immunogenicity study of vaccine constructs that focuses the antibody response on V1V2 and induces V2-specific antibodies with the ability to mediate phagocytosis, an activity that has been associated with protection from infection with HIV, SIV, and SHIV.