Covalent conjugation of immune-stimulatory compounds to protein antigens is a potential means to self-adjuvant non-replicating subunit vaccines. Previously, it was demonstrated that covalent coupling of a Toll-like receptor (TLR) ligand to the exterior HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein, gp120, enhanced its immunogenicity. However, the consequences of chemical conjugation to gp120 on broadly neutralizing antibody (bNAb) epitopes were so far not examined. Here, we conjugated a TLR7/8 ligand to lysine residues on gp120 using NHS-PEO8-maleimide linkers and investigated if this affected Ab recognition of the CD4 binding site (CD4bs), a highly conserved target for bNAbs. We demonstrate that the recognition of the CD4bs was reduced following coupling, especially at a higher coupling ratio. These results have implications for the coupling of ligands to vaccine antigens where elicitation of humoral immune responses to specific neutralizing determinants is desired.
Keywords: Cross-linker; HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein; Neutralizing antibody; Toll-like receptor ligand.
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