Biochemical and biophysical comparison of cleaved and uncleaved soluble, trimeric HIV-1 envelope glycoproteins
env Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus
Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) entry into host cells is mediated by the trimeric envelope glycoprotein complex (Env). Accordingly, the Env proteins are the targets for neutralizing antibodies (NAbs) and are the focus of vaccines intended to induce NAbs. Because the Env complex is labile, soluble recombinant Env (gp140) trimers require engineering to stabilize them sufficiently for use as immunogens. Trimeric forms of gp140 trimers can be created that are either cleavage-competent or cleavage-defective at the junction between the gp120 and gp41 subunits. As functional trimers are cleaved at this site, the question arises as to whether cleavage affects the antigenic structure of the Env complex in a way that is relevant to vaccine design. Here, we present a comparative analysis of the antigenicity profiles of cleaved and uncleaved gp140 trimers derived from the KNH1144 (subtype A) virus that are otherwise closely sequence-matched. While cleavage did not affect the exposure of NAb epitopes on the gp140 trimers, non-neutralizing antibodies to gp41 epitopes bound much more strongly to uncleaved trimers. Hence cleavage does alter the structure of the HIV-1 Env complex.