The overall goal of this project is to explore and advance structurally constrained forms of HIV-1 envelope (Env) protein for development of an HIV-1 vaccine. Formulations of viral envelope protein gp120 that could program the human immune system to recognize and block the HIV-1 envelope protein have been a major goal of AIDS vaccine development. However, gp120 has been found to be able to evade immune surveillance, due significantly to its conformational flexibility. Identifying approaches to induce increased structural stability, in particular by conserved epitope focusing, is seen as an important goal to improve the ability of envelope vaccines to elicit neutralizing immune responses. Recently, we have developed a set of molecules, called """"""""allosteric dual site antagonists"""""""", that can bind strongly to the viral gp120 in such a way as to entrap gp120 in a three dimensional structure that is functionally suppressed but with an accessible CD4 Phe 43 binding pocket. We hypothesize that allosteric dual site antagonists can induce an altered immunogenic landscape in HIV-1 envelope protein, and that such an altered landscape can potentially lead to an enhanced neutralizing immune response against conserved receptor binding sites, including that for CD4. We will test this hypothesis in the R21 phase of this PIA project with 2 major aims. (R21-Aim1) Using recombinant protein engineering and peptide synthesis, we aim to produce HIV-1 Env immunogens in which allosteric dual site antagonists of the HNG-156 class are bound either noncovalently or covalently with recombinant trimeric and monomeric forms of HIV-1 gp120. (R21-Aim2) Using small animal models, we aim to test the hypothesis that vaccination of complexes and covalent fusions of allosteric gp120 inhibitors with recombinant trimeric and monomeric forms of HIV-1 gp120 will elicit enhanced anti-HIVgp120 specific antibody and T cell epitope breadth, magnitude and the neutralization capacity of B cells. The key milestone of the R21 project will be to demonstrate enhanced serum neutralization activities promoted by allosteric dual site antagonists of HIV-1 Env gp120. Achievement of this milestone will lead to an R33 development phase that includes identification of advanced immunogens with optimized compositions of HIV-1 Env bound noncovalently and covalently to allosteric inhibitors (R33-Aim1);testing of immunogens using a non-human primate model with mucosal challenge (R33- Aim2);and production of potential neutralizing monoclonal antibodies, elicited by Env -allosteric inhibitor immunogens, that will be characterized for Env binding epitopes and breadth of neutralization (R33-Aim3). Overall, this project will use epitope focusing through conformational constraint to learn how allosteric ligands can exert control over conformations of HIV-1 Env protein in an immunogenically productive way, identify neutralization sites in HIV-1 Env for protective immunity, develop Env constructs for non-human primate efficacy/toxicity evaluation, and advance immunogen formulations to primate and, ultimately, human trials.
This project seeks to test newly identified forms of the HIV-1 virus coat protein as tools for designing AIDS vaccines that could be used to provide immunoprotection in humans.
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