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1.  Cryptic Determinant of α4β7 Binding in the V2 Loop of HIV-1 gp120 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e108446.
The peptide segment of the second variable loop of HIV-1 spanning positions 166–181 harbors two functionally important sites. The first, spanning positions 179–181, engages the human α4β7 integrin receptor which is involved in T-cell gut-homing and may play a role in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-host cell interactions. The second, at positions 166–178, is a major target of anti-V2 antibodies elicited by the ALVAC/AIDSVAX vaccine used in the RV144 clinical trial. Notably, these two sites are directly adjacent, but do not overlap. Here, we report the identity of a second determinant of α4β7 binding located at positions 170–172 of the V2 loop. This segment – tripeptide QRV170–172– is located within the second site, yet functionally affects the first site. The absence of this segment abrogates α4β7 binding in peptides bearing the same sequence from position 173–185 as the V2 loops of the RV144 vaccines. However, peptides exhibiting V2 loop sequences from heterologous HIV-1 strains that include this QRV170–172 motif bind the α4β7 receptor on cells. Therefore, the peptide segment at positions 166–178 of the V2 loop of HIV-1 viruses appears to harbor a cryptic determinant of α4β7 binding. Prior studies show that the anti-V2 antibody response elicited by the RV144 vaccine, along with immune pressure inferred from a sieve analysis, is directed to this same region of the V2 loop. Accordingly, the anti-V2 antibodies that apparently reduced the risk of infection in the RV144 trial may have functioned by blocking α4β7-mediated HIV-host cell interactions via this cryptic determinant.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0108446
PMCID: PMC4180765  PMID: 25265384
2.  Quantitative Assessment of Masking of Neutralization Epitopes in HIV-1 
Vaccine  2011;29(39):6736-6741.
Despite the frequent observation of masking of HIV-1 neutralization epitopes, its extent has not previously been systematically assessed either for multiple epitopes presented by individual viruses or for individual epitopes across multiple viral strains. Using a recently developed method to identify amino acid sequence motifs required for recognition by HIV-1-neutralizing monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), we visualized the patterns of masking of specific epitopes targeted by mAbs in a diverse panel of HIV-1 isolates. We also calculated a specific masking intensity score for each virus based on the observed neutralization activity of mAbs against the epitopes in the virus. Finally, we combined these data with estimates of the conservation of each mAb-targeted epitope in circulating HIV-1 strains to estimate the effective neutralization potential (EN) for each mAb. Focusing on the V3 loop of gp120 as a prototype neutralization domain, we found that the V3 loop epitope targeted by mAb 2219 is one of the least masked mAbs and it has the highest EN. Interestingly, although the V3 loop epitope targeted by mAb 3074 is present in over 87% of all viruses, it is 82.2% masked, so its EN is lower than that for mAb 2219. Notably, 50% of the viruses that mAb 3074 is able to neutralize are classified as subtype C viruses, while 70% or more of the viruses neutralized by mAbs 2219, 2557 or 447-52D are classified as subtype B. Thus, neutralization epitopes (in this case, in the V3 loop) have differential patterns of masking and also display distinct patterns of distribution among circulating HIV-1 viruses. Both factors combine to contribute to the practical vaccine value of any single epitope/mAb. Here we have developed a quantitative score for this value. These results have important implications for rational design of vaccines designed to induce neutralizing Abs by revealing epitopes that are minimally masked and maximally reactive with neutralizing Abs.
doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2010.12.052
PMCID: PMC3135678  PMID: 21216319
HIV-1; V3; variable loop; masking; epitope; neutralization
3.  Resistance of Subtype C HIV-1 Strains to Anti-V3 Loop Antibodies 
Advances in Virology  2012;2012:803535.
HIV-1's subtype C V3 loop consensus sequence exhibits increased resistance to anti-V3 antibody-mediated neutralization as compared to the subtype B consensus sequence. The dynamic 3D structure of the consensus C V3 loop crown, visualized by ab initio folding, suggested that the resistance derives from structural rigidity and non-β-strand secondary protein structure in the N-terminal strand of the β-hairpin of the V3 loop crown, which is where most known anti-V3 loop antibodies bind. The observation of either rigidity or non-β-strand structure in this region correlated with observed resistance to antibody-mediated neutralization in a series of chimeric pseudovirus (psV) mutants. The results suggest the presence of an epitope-independent, neutralization-relevant structural difference in the antibody-targeted region of the V3 loop crown between subtype C and subtype B, a difference that we hypothesize may contribute to the divergent pattern of global spread between these subtypes. As antibodies to a variable loop were recently identified as an inverse correlate of risk for HIV infection, the structure-function relationships discussed in this study may have relevance to HIV vaccine research.
doi:10.1155/2012/803535
PMCID: PMC3323838  PMID: 22548061
4.  Indirect Detection of an Epitope-Specific Response to HIV-1 gp120 Immunization in Human Subjects 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e27279.
A specific response of human serum neutralizing antibodies (nAb) to a conformational epitope as a result of vaccination of human subjects with the surface envelope glycoprotein (gp120) of HIV-1 has not previously been documented. Here, we used computational analysis to assess the epitope-specific responses of human subjects, which were immunized with recombinant gp120 immunogens in the VAX003 and VAX004 clinical trials. Our computational methodology—a variation of sieve analysis—compares the occurrence of specific nAb targeted conformational 3D epitopes on viruses from infected individuals who received vaccination to the occurrence of matched epitopes in the viruses infecting placebo subjects. We specifically studied seven crystallographically defined nAb targeted conformational epitopes in the V3 loop, an immunogenic region of gp120. Of the six epitopes present in the immunogens and targeted by known monoclonal neutralizing antibodies, only the one targeted by the anti-V3 nAb 2219 exhibited a significant reduction in occurrence in vaccinated subjects compared to the placebo group. This difference occurred only in the VAX003 Thailand cohort. No difference was seen between vaccinated and placebo groups for the occurrence of an epitope that was not present in the immunogen. Thus, it can be theorized that a specific 2219-like human neutralizing antibody immune response to AIDSVAX immunization occurred in the VAX003 cohort, and that this response protected subjects from a narrow subset of HIV-1 viruses circulating in Thailand in the 1990s and bearing the conformational epitope targeted by the neutralizing antibody 2219.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027279
PMCID: PMC3208624  PMID: 22076145
5.  Structural Conservation Predominates Over Sequence Variability in the Crown of HIV Type 1's V3 Loop 
Abstract
The diversity of HIV-1 is a confounding problem for vaccine design, as the human immune response appears to favor poor or strain-specific responses to any given HIV-1 virus strain. A significant portion of this diversity is manifested as sequence variability in the loops of HIV-1's surface envelope glycoprotein. Here we show that the most variable sequence positions in the third variable (V3) loop crown cluster to a small zone on the surface of one face of the V3 loop ß-hairpin conformation. These results provide a novel visualization of the gp120 V3 loop, specifically demonstrating a surprising preponderance of conserved three-dimensional structure in a highly sequence-variable region. From a structural point of view, there appears to be less diversity in this region of the HIV-1 “principle neutralizing domain” than previously appreciated.
doi:10.1089/aid.2009.0254
PMCID: PMC2932551  PMID: 20560796
6.  Comparative Magnitude of Cross-Strain Conservation of HIV Variable Loop Neutralization Epitopes 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(12):e15994.
Although the sequence variable loops of the human immunodeficiency virus' (HIV-1) surface envelope glycoprotein (gp120) can exhibit good immunogenicity, characterizing conserved (invariant) cross-strain neutralization epitopes within these loops has proven difficult. We recently developed a method to derive sensitive and specific signature motifs for the three-dimensional (3D) shapes of the HIV-1 neutralization epitopes in the third variable (V3) loop of gp120 that are recognized by human monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). We used the signature motif method to estimate the conservation of these epitopes across circulating worldwide HIV-1 strains. The epitope targeted by the anti-V3 loop neutralizing mAb 3074 is present in 87% of circulating strains, distributed nearly evenly among all subtypes. The results for other anti-V3 Abs are: 3791, present in 63% of primarily non-B subtypes; 2219, present in 56% of strains across all subtypes; 2557, present in 52% across all subtypes; 447-52D, present in 11% of primarily subtype B strains; 537-10D, present in 9% of primarily subtype B strains; and 268-D, present in 5% of primarily subtype B strains. The estimates correlate with in vitro tests of these mAbs against diverse viral panels. The mAb 3074 thus targets an epitope that is nearly completely conserved among circulating HIV-1 strains, demonstrating the presence of an invariant structure hidden in the dynamic and sequence-variable V3 loop in gp120. Since some variable loop regions are naturally immunogenic, designing immunogens to mimic their conserved epitopes may be a promising vaccine discovery approach. Our results suggest one way to quantify and compare the magnitude of the conservation.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0015994
PMCID: PMC3012121  PMID: 21209919
7.  Worldwide Distribution of HIV Type 1 Epitopes Recognized by Human Anti-V3 Monoclonal Antibodies 
Abstract
Epitopes, also known as antigenic determinants, are small clusters of specific atoms within macromolecules that are recognized by the immune system. Such epitopes can be targeted with vaccines designed to protect against specific pathogens. The third variable loop (V3 loop) of the HIV-1 pathogen's gp120 surface envelope glycoprotein can be a highly sensitive neutralization target. We derived sequence motifs for the V3 loop epitopes recognized by the human monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) 447-52D and 2219. Searching the HIV database for the occurrence of each epitope motif in worldwide viruses and correcting the results based on published WHO epidemiology reveal that the 447-52D epitope we defined occurs in 13% of viruses infecting patients worldwide: 79% of subtype B viruses, 1% of subtype C viruses, and 7% of subtype A/AG sequences. In contrast, the epitope we characterized for human anti-V3 mAb 2219 is present in 30% of worldwide isolates but is evenly distributed across the known HIV-1 subtypes: 48% of subtype B strains, 40% of subtype C, and 18% of subtype A/AG. Various assays confirmed that the epitopes corresponding to these motifs, when expressed in the SF162 Env backbone, were sensitively and specifically neutralized by the respective mAbs. The method described here is capable of accurately determining the worldwide occurrence and subtype distribution of any crystallographically resolved HIV-1 epitope recognized by a neutralizing antibody, which could be useful for multivalent vaccine design. More importantly, these calculations demonstrate that globally relevant, structurally conserved epitopes are present in the sequence variable V3 loop.
doi:10.1089/aid.2008.0188
PMCID: PMC2853842  PMID: 19320565

Results 1-7 (7)