The development of soluble envelope glycoprotein (Env) mimetics displaying ordered trimeric symmetry has ushered in a new era in HIV-1 vaccination. The recently reported native, flexibly linked (NFL) design allows the generation of native-like trimers from clinical isolates at high yields and homogeneity. As the majority of infections world-wide are of the clade C subtype, we examined responses in non-human primates to well-ordered subtype C 16055 trimers administered in soluble or high-density liposomal formats. We detected superior germinal center formation and enhanced autologous neutralizing antibodies against the neutralization-resistant (tier 2) 16055 virus following inoculation of liposome-arrayed trimers. Epitope mapping of the neutralizing monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) indicated major contacts with the V2 apex, and 3D electron microscopy reconstructions of Fab-trimer complexes revealed a horizontal binding angle to the Env spike. These vaccine-elicited mAbs target the V2 cap, demonstrating a means to accomplish tier 2 virus neutralization by penetrating the dense N-glycan shield.
Keywords: B cell responses; HIV-1; clade C; envelope glycoproteins; epitope; germinal centers; liposome; monoclonal antibody; trimers; vaccine.
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