The induction of broadly cross-neutralizing antibodies (Abs) that can protect healthy individuals against HIV infection remains a major challenge for vaccine development. These neutralizing Abs are observed in the course of natural HIV-1 infection, appearing 2 to 3 years post infection raising the question of whether or not they can be induced during a relatively short period of immunization. We propose a new approach to (a) employ an immunogen (mimotope-fusion protein) which targets selected immunoglobulin (Ig) gene-encoded Abs on naive B cells that are the precursors of anti-V3 neutralizing Abs and (b) monitor for an affinity maturation and development of cross-neutralization potency of pseudoviruses. Toward these goals, we have developed a rationally designed immunogen based on VH5-51 mimotope that mimics the highly conserved V3 epitopes recognized by human cross-neutralizing anti-V3 monoclonal Abs (mAbs) encoded by a pairing of the VH5-51 and VL lambda genes. We hypothesize that a VH5-51 mimotope can be targeted to macaque B cell receptors (encoded by the VH5-51 and VL lambda genes), where it will induce Abs with significantly enhanced affinity maturation compared to the control mimotope (non-VH5-51), which will induce anti-V3 Abs encoded by different Ig genes. In the first aim, we will generate monoclonal anti-V3 Abs from antigen-specific single B cells derived from rhesus macaques immunized with two immunogens to specifically elicit anti-V3 Abs encoded by the VH5-51 or by other non-VH5-51 genes. Two groups, each comprising three rhesus monkeys, will be immunized with gp160 DNA prime in combination with a VH5-51 mimotope-CTB fusion protein or gp160 DNA prime with control non-VH5-51 mimotope-CTB. Blood specimens from each animal will be drawn at pre-immunization, during immunization and at 1, 3, 6, 12 and 18 months post-last immunization. The longitudinal PBMC specimens from one animal in each group will be chosen for production of anti-V3 mAbs from IgG+ single B cells selected using the biotinylated V3-Fc fusion protein. The Ig variable genes from V3-specific B cells will be amplified by RT-PCR, cloned into expression vectors, and full-length IgG mAbs will be produced from 293T cells upon plasmid co-transfection. In the second aim, we will monitor the maturation of anti-V3 mAbs, sequentially produced from macaques immunized with the VH5-51 and non-VH5-51 immunogens by measuring mutation rates, relative affinity (50% maximal binding) and neutralizing activity (IC50). The profile of changes in the affinity and neutralizing activities wil be compared between VH5-51- and non-VH5-51-derived anti-V3 mAbs. Results that demonstrate the feasibility of targeting the particular Ig gene-encoded V3 B cell receptor would provide opportunities to target other Ig genes encoding neutralizing Abs with different specificities. For vaccine development, the immunogen based on a Ig gene-targeted mimotope can be used for combined boosting with gp120 to spike the immune response against particular envelope neutralizing epitope.
The goal of the proposed research is to test in non-human primates, used as preclinical models, the possibility to induce cross-neutralizing antibodies against HIV-1. The monkeys will be immunized with rationally designed antigen stimulating the B cells to produce antibodies encoded only by selected immunoglobulin genes. The antibodies encoded by these genes are pre-adapted to the V3 antigen on the virus envelope that leads to rapid maturation of antibody response and efficient HIV-1 neutralization compared to other control vaccine immunogen.