Background: A vaccine is needed to control the spread of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1). An in vitro assay that can predict the protection induced by a vaccine would facilitate the development of such a vaccine. A potential candidate would be an assay to quantify neutralization of HIV-1.
Methods and findings: We have used sera from rhesus macaques that have been immunized with HIV candidate vaccines and subsequently challenged with simian human immunodeficiency virus (SHIV). We compared neutralization assays with different formats. In experiments with the standardized and validated TZMbl assay, neutralizing antibody titers against homologous SHIV(SF162P4) pseudovirus gave a variable correlation with reductions in plasma viremia levels. The target cells used in the assays are not just passive indicators of virus infection but are actively involved in the neutralization process. When replicating virus was used with GHOST cell assays, events during the absorption phase, as well as the incubation phase, determine the level of neutralization. Sera that are associated with protection have properties that are closest to the traditional concept of neutralization: the concentration of antibody present during the absorption phase has no effect on the inactivation rate. In GHOST assays, events during the absorption phase may inactivate a fixed number, rather than a proportion, of virus so that while complete neutralization can be obtained, it can only be found at low doses particularly with isolates that are relatively resistant to neutralization.
Conclusions: Two scenarios have the potential to predict protection by neutralizing antibodies at concentrations that can be induced by vaccination: antibodies that have properties close to the traditional concept of neutralization may protect against a range of challenge doses of neutralization sensitive HIV isolates; a window of opportunity also exists for protection against isolates that are more resistant to neutralization but only at low challenge doses.
© 2011 Davis et al.