Journal of virology

Distinct mechanisms regulate exposure of neutralizing epitopes in the V2 and V3 loops of HIV-1 envelope.

PMID 25165106


Broadly neutralizing antibodies targeting the HIV-1 envelope (Env) are key components for protection against HIV-1. However, many cross-reactive epitopes are often occluded. This study investigates the mechanisms contributing to the masking of V2i (variable loop V2 integrin) epitopes compared to the accessibility of V3 epitopes. V2i are conformation-dependent epitopes encompassing the integrin α4β7-binding motif on the V1V2 loop of HIV-1 Env gp120. The V2i monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) display extensive cross-reactivity with gp120 monomers from many subtypes but neutralize only few viruses, indicating V2i's cryptic nature. First, we asked whether CD4-induced Env conformational changes affect V2i epitopes similarly to V3. CD4 treatment of BaL and JRFL pseudoviruses increased their neutralization sensitivity to V3 MAbs but not to the V2i MAbs. Second, the contribution of N-glycans in masking V2i versus V3 epitopes was evaluated by testing the neutralization of pseudoviruses produced in the presence of a glycosidase inhibitor, kifunensine. Viruses grown in kifunensine were more sensitive to neutralization by V3 but not V2i MAbs. Finally, we evaluated the time-dependent dynamics of the V2i and V3 epitopes. Extending the time of virus-MAb interaction to 18 h before adding target cells increased virus neutralization by some V2i MAbs and all V3 MAbs tested. Consistent with this, V2i MAb binding to Env on the surface of transfected cells also increased in a time-dependent manner. Hence, V2i and V3 epitopes are highly dynamic, but distinct factors modulate the antibody accessibility of these epitopes. The study reveals the importance of the structural dynamics of V2i and V3 epitopes in determining HIV-1 neutralization by antibodies targeting these sites. Conserved neutralizing epitopes are present in the V1V2 and V3 regions of HIV-1 Env, but these epitopes are often occluded from Abs. This study reveals that distinct mechanisms contribute to the masking of V3 epitopes and V2i epitopes in the V1V2 domain. Importantly, V3 MAbs and some V2i MAbs display greater neutralization against relatively resistant HIV-1 isolates when the MAbs interact with the virus for a prolonged period of time. Given their highly immunogenic nature, V3 and V2i epitopes are valuable targets that would augment the efficacy of HIV vaccines.