What do chaotrope-based avidity assays for antibodies to HIV-1 envelope glycoproteins measure?
env Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus
An effective HIV-1 vaccine is an important goal. Such a vaccine will probably need to induce antibodies that neutralize typically transmitted variants of HIV-1, preventing them from infecting target cells. Vaccine candidates have so far failed to induce such antibody responses, although some do protect weakly against infection in animals and, possibly, humans. In the search for responses associated with protection, an avidity assay based on chemical disruption is often used to measure the strength of antibody binding. We have analyzed this assay mechanistically and found that the epitope specificity of an antibody has a greater influence on the outcome than does its affinity. As a result, the avidity assay is biased toward the detection of some antibody specificities while disfavoring others. We conclude that the assay may yield merely indirect correlations with weak protection, specifically when Env vaccination has failed to induce broad neutralizing responses.