Towards conformational fidelity of a quaternary HIV-1 epitope: computational design and directed evolution of a minimal V1V2 antigen

Protein Eng Des Sel. 2018 Apr 1;31(4):121-133. doi: 10.1093/protein/gzy010.


Structure-based approaches to antigen design utilize insights from antibody (Ab):antigen interactions and a refined understanding of protective Ab responses to engineer novel antigens presenting epitopes with conformations relevant to eliciting or discovering protective humoral responses. For human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1), one model of protection is provided by broadly neutralizing Abs (bnAbs) against epitopes present in the closed prefusion trimeric conformation of HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein, such as the variable loops 1-2 (V1V2) apex. Here, computational design and directed evolution yielded a novel V1V2 sequence variant with potential utility for inclusion in an immunogen for eliciting bnAbs, or as an epitope probe for their detection. The computational design goal was to engineer a minimal single-chain antigen with three copies of the V1V2 loops to support maintenance of closed prefusion V1V2 trimeric conformation and presentation of bnAb epitopes. Via directed evolution of this computationally designed single-chain antigen, we isolated a V1V2 sequence variant that in monomeric form exhibited preferential recognition by quaternary-preferring and conformation-dependent mAbs. Structural context and transferability of this phenotype to V1V2 sequences from all strains of HIV-1 tested suggest a conformation-stabilizing effect. This example demonstrates the potential utility of computational design and directed evolution-based protein engineering strategies to develop minimal, conformation-stabilized epitope-specific antigens.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Antigens, Viral / chemistry*
  • Antigens, Viral / genetics*
  • Antigens, Viral / immunology
  • Directed Molecular Evolution*
  • Epitopes / chemistry*
  • Epitopes / genetics*
  • Epitopes / immunology
  • HIV-1 / immunology*
  • Immunity, Humoral
  • Models, Molecular
  • Point Mutation
  • Protein Conformation
  • Viral Fusion Proteins / chemistry*


  • Antigens, Viral
  • Epitopes
  • Viral Fusion Proteins