Most HIV-1 vaccines elicit neutralizing antibodies that are active against highly sensitive (tier-1) viruses or rare cases of vaccine-matched neutralization-resistant (tier-2) viruses, but no vaccine has induced antibodies that can broadly neutralize heterologous tier-2 viruses. In this study, we isolated antibodies from an HIV-1-infected individual that targeted the gp41 membrane-proximal external region (MPER) that may have selected single-residue changes in viral variants in the MPER that resulted in neutralization sensitivity to antibodies targeting distal epitopes on the HIV-1 Env. Similarly, a single change in the MPER in a second virus from another infected-individual also conferred enhanced neutralization sensitivity. These gp41 single-residue changes thus transformed tier-2 viruses into tier-1 viruses that were sensitive to vaccine-elicited tier-1 neutralizing antibodies. These data demonstrate that Env amino acid changes within the MPER bnAb epitope of naturally-selected escape viruses can increase neutralization sensitivity to multiple types of neutralizing antibodies, and underscore the critical importance of the MPER for maintaining the integrity of the tier-2 HIV-1 trimer.
Copyright © 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.