The Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise convened a two-day workshop in May of 2007 to discuss humoral immune responses to HIV and approaches to design vaccines that induce viral neutralizing and other potentially protective antibody responses. The goals of this workshop were to identify key scientific issues, gaps, and opportunities that have emerged since the Enterprise Strategic Plan was first published in 2005 , and to make recommendations that Enterprise stakeholders can use to plan new activities.
Most effective viral vaccines work, at least in part, by generating antibodies that inactivate or neutralize the invading virus, and the existing data strongly suggest that an optimally effective HIV-1 vaccine should elicit potent antiviral neutralizing antibodies. However, unlike acute viral pathogens, HIV-1 chronically replicates in the host and evades the antibody response. This immune evasion, along with the large genetic variation among HIV-1 strains worldwide, has posed major obstacles to vaccine development. Current HIV vaccine candidates do not elicit neutralizing antibodies against most circulating virus strains, and thus the induction of a protective antibody response remains a major priority for HIV-1 vaccine development. For an antibody-based HIV-1 vaccine, progress in vaccine design is generally gauged by in vitro assays that measure the ability of vaccine-induced antibodies to neutralize a broad spectrum of viral isolates representing the major genetic subtypes (clades) of HIV-1 . Although it is not known what magnitude and breadth of neutralization will predict protection in vaccine recipients, it is clear that current vaccine immunogens elicit antibodies that neutralize only a minority of circulating isolates. Thus, much progress needs to be made in this area. Also, though virus neutralization is considered a critical benchmark for a vaccine, this may not be the only benchmark for predicting success with antibody-based HIV-1 vaccine immunogens.
The main targets for neutralizing antibodies to HIV-1 are the surface gp120 and trans-membrane gp41 envelope glycoproteins (Env) that mediate receptor and coreceptor binding and the subsequent membrane fusion events that allow the virus to gain entry into cells . Antibodies neutralize the virus by binding these viral spikes and blocking virus entry into susceptible cells, such as CD4+ T cells [4,5]. In order to chronically replicate in the host, the virus exploits several mechanisms to shield itself against antibody recognition, including a dense outer coating of sugar molecules (N-linked glycans) and the strategic positioning of cysteine–cysteine loop structures on the gp120 molecule [6–8]. These shielding mechanisms, although highly effective, have vulnerabilities imposed by fitness constraints. Information on the precise location and molecular structure of these vulnerable regions could be valuable for the rational design of improved vaccine immunogens.
Participants in the workshop identified four areas that, if given proper attention, could provide key information that would bring the field closer to an effective antibody-based HIV-1 vaccine: (1) structure-assisted immunogen design, (2) role of Fc receptors and complement, (3) assay standardization and validation, and (4) immunoregulation of B cell responses.