Reducing V3 antigenicity and immunogenicity on soluble, native-like HIV-1 Env SOSIP Trimers
env Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus
Native-like trimers of the SOSIP design are being developed as immunogens in human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) vaccine development programs. These trimers display the epitopes for multiple broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) but can also expose binding sites for some types of nonneutralizing antibodies (non-NAbs). Among the latter are epitopes in the gp120 V3 region that are highly immunogenic when SOSIP trimers are evaluated in animal models. It is presently uncertain whether antibodies against V3 can interfere with the induction of NAbs, but there are good arguments in favor of suppressing such "off-target" immune responses. Accordingly, we have assessed how to minimize the exposure of V3 non-NAb epitopes and thereby reduce their immunogenicity by introducing N-glycans within the V3 region of BG505 SOSIP trimers. We found that inserting glycans at positions 306 and 314 (termed M1 and M7) markedly reduced V3 antigenicity while improving the presentation of trimer apex bNAb epitopes. Both added glycans were shown to be predominantly of the Man6GlcNAc2 form. The additional introduction of the E64K ground-state stabilizing substitution markedly reduced or ablated soluble CD4 (sCD4) induction of non-NAb epitopes in V3 and/or associated with the coreceptor binding site. When a V3 glycan- and E64K-modified trimer variant, BG505 SOSIP.664-E64K.M1M7, was tested in rabbits, V3 immunogenicity was eliminated while the autologous NAb response was unchanged.IMPORTANCE Trimeric proteins are being developed for future HIV-1 vaccine trials in humans, with the goal of eliciting broadly active neutralizing antibodies (NAbs) that are active against a wide variety of circulating strains. In animal models, the present generation of native-like trimer immunogens, exemplified by the BG505 SOSIP.664 construct, induces narrow-specificity antibodies against the neutralization-resistant (tier-2), sequence-matched virus and more broadly active antibodies against sequence-divergent atypically neutralization-sensitive (tier-1) viruses. A concern in the trimer immunogen design field has been whether the latter off-target antibodies might interfere with the induction of the more desired responses to tier-2 epitopes. Here, we have inserted two glycans into the dominant site for tier-1 NAbs, the gp120 V3 region, to block the induction of off-target antibodies. We characterized the new trimers, tested them as immunogens in rabbits, and found that the blocking glycans eliminated the induction of tier-1 NAbs to V3-epitopes.