Designing an effective HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein (Env) immunogen for elicitation of broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) is a challenging task because of the high sequence diversity, heavy glycosylation, and inherent meta-stability of Env. Based on the antigenic profile of recently isolated bNAbs, the rational approach to immunogen design is to make a stable version of the Env trimer, which mimics the native trimeric Env present on the viral surface. The SOSIP.664 form of a clade A Env, BG505, yields a homogeneous and well ordered prefusion trimeric form, which maintains structural integrity and desired antigenicity. Following the same approach, we attempted to stabilize a naturally occurring efficiently cleaved clade C Env, namely 4-2.J41, isolated from an Indian patient. Although the SOSIP form of 4-2.J41 failed to produce reasonably well ordered trimers, the 4-2.J41.SOSIP.664 Env could be stabilized in a native-like trimeric form by swapping a domain from BG505 Env to 4-2.J41 Env. Using various biochemical and biophysical means we confirmed that this engineered Env is cleaved, trimeric, and it retains its native-like quaternary conformation exposing mostly broadly neutralizing epitopes. Moreover, introduction of a disulfide bond in the bridging sheet region further stabilized the closed conformation of the Env. Thus, our 4-2.J41.SOSIP.664 Env adds to the increasing pool of potential immunogens for a HIV-1 vaccine, particularly for clade C, which is the most prevalent in India and many other countries. Besides, the approach used to stabilize the 4-2.J41 Env may be used successfully with Envs from other HIV-1 strains as well. Additionally, a soluble native trimeric form of an efficiently cleaved membrane-bound Env, 4-2.J41, may be beneficial for immunization studies using various prime-boost strategies.
Keywords: AIDS; human immunodeficiency virus (HIV); protein expression; protein purification; vaccine; vaccine development; viral protein.
© 2017 by The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.