Previous studies in our laboratory characterized a panel of highly mutated HIV-specific conformational epitope-targeting antibodies (Abs) from a panel of HIV-infected long-term nonprogressors (LTNPs). Despite binding HIV envelope protein and having a high number of somatic amino acid mutations, these Abs had poor neutralizing activity. Because of the evidence of antigen-driven selection and the long CDR3 region (21 amino acids [aa]), we further characterized the epitope targeting of monoclonal Ab (MAb) 76-Q3-2C6 (2C6). We confirmed that 2C6 binds preferentially to trimeric envelope and recognizes the clades A, B, and C SOSIP trimers. 2C6 binds gp140 constructs of clades A, B, C, and D, suggesting a conserved binding site that we localized to the ectodomain of gp41. Ab competition with MAb 50-69 suggested this epitope localizes near aa 579 to 613 (referenced to HXB2 gp160). Peptide library scanning showed consistent binding in this region but to only a single peptide. Lack of overlapping peptide binding supported a nonlinear epitope structure. The significance of this site is supported by 2C6 having Ab-dependent cell cytotoxicity (ADCC) against envelope proteins from two clades. Using 2C6 and variants, alanine scanning mutagenesis identified three amino acids (aa 592, 595, and 596) in the overlapping region of the previously identified peptide. Additional amino acids at sites 524 and 579 were also identified, helping explain its conformational requirement. The fact that different amino acids were included in the epitope depending on the targeted protein supports the conclusion that 2C6 targets a native conformational epitope. When we mapped these amino acids on the trimerized structure, they spanned across oligomers, supporting the notion that the epitope targeted by 2C6 lies in a recessed pocket between two gp41 oligomers. A complete understanding of the epitope specificity of ADCC-mediating Abs is essential for developing effective immunization strategies that optimize protection by these Abs.IMPORTANCE This paper further defines the function and area of the HIV trimeric envelope protein targeted by the monoclonal antibody 2C6. 2C6 binding is influenced by amino acid mutations across two separate gp41 sections of the envelope trimer. This epitope is recognized on multiple clades (variant groups of circulating viruses) of gp41, gp140 trimers, and SOSIP trimers. For the clades tested, 2C6 has robust ADCC. As the target of 2C6 is available in the major clades of HIV and has robust ADCC activity, further definition and appreciation of targeting of antibodies similar to 2C6 during vaccine development should be considered.
Keywords: antibody; antibody-dependent cell cytotoxicity; conformational epitope.
Copyright © 2019 American Society for Microbiology.