Background: Current HIV-1 immunogens are unable to induce antibodies that can neutralize a broad range of HIV-1 (broadly neutralizing antibodies; bNAbs). However, such antibodies are elicited in 10-30 % of HIV-1 infected individuals, and the co-evolution of the virus and the humoral immune responses in these individuals has attracted attention, because they can provide clues for vaccine design.
Results: Here we characterized the NAb responses and envelope glycoprotein evolution in an HIV-1 infected "elite neutralizer" of the Amsterdam Cohort Studies on HIV-1 infection and AIDS who developed an unusually potent bNAb response rapidly after infection. The NAb response was dependent on the N332-glycan and viral resistance against the N332-glycan dependent bNAb PGT135 developed over time but viral escape did not occur at or near this glycan. In contrast, the virus likely escaped by increasing V1 length, with up to 21 amino acids, accompanied by the introduction of 1-3 additional glycans, as well as 2-4 additional cysteine residues within V1.
Conclusions: In the individual studied here, HIV-1 escaped from N332-glycan directed NAb responses without changing the epitope itself, but by elongating a variable loop that shields this epitope.
Keywords: Broadly neutralizing antibodies; Cysteines; Envelope glycoprotein; Glycans; HIV-1; N332; Variable regions.