Coevolution of Adeno-associated Virus Capsid Antigenicity and Tropism through a Structure-Guided Approach

J Virol. 2020 Sep 15;94(19):e00976-20. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00976-20. Print 2020 Sep 15.


Adeno-associated viruses (AAV) are composed of nonenveloped, icosahedral protein shells that can be adapted to package and deliver recombinant therapeutic DNA. Approaches to engineer recombinant capsids for gene therapy applications have focused on rational design or library-based approaches that can address one or two desirable attributes; however, there is an unmet need to comprehensively improve AAV vector properties. Such cannot be achieved by utilizing sequence data alone but requires harnessing the three-dimensional (3D) structural properties of AAV capsids. Here, we solve the structures of a natural AAV isolate complexed with antibodies using cryo-electron microscopy and harness this structural information to engineer AAV capsid libraries through saturation mutagenesis of different antigenic footprints. Each surface loop was evolved by infectious cycling in the presence of a helper adenovirus to yield a new AAV variant that then serves as a template for evolving the next surface loop. This stepwise process yielded a humanized AAV8 capsid (AAVhum.8) displaying nonnatural surface loops that simultaneously display tropism for human hepatocytes, increased gene transfer efficiency, and neutralizing antibody evasion. Specifically, AAVhum.8 can better evade neutralizing antisera from multiple species than AAV8. Further, AAVhum.8 displays robust transduction in a human liver xenograft mouse model with expanded tropism for both murine and human hepatocytes. This work supports the hypothesis that critical properties, such as AAV capsid antibody evasion and tropism, can be coevolved by combining rational design and library-based evolution for clinical gene therapy.IMPORTANCE Clinical gene therapy with recombinant AAV vectors has largely relied on natural capsid isolates. There is an unmet need to comprehensively improve AAV tissue tropism, transduction efficiency, and antibody evasion. Such cannot be achieved by utilizing capsid sequence data alone but requires harnessing the 3D structural properties of AAV capsids. Here, we combine rational design and library-based evolution to coevolve multiple, desirable properties onto AAV by harnessing 3D structural information.

Keywords: adeno-associated virus; gene therapy; liver gene delivery; neutralizing antibodies; tropism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing / immunology
  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Capsid / immunology*
  • Capsid Proteins / chemistry
  • Capsid Proteins / genetics
  • Capsid Proteins / immunology*
  • Cell Line
  • Cryoelectron Microscopy
  • Dependovirus / genetics
  • Dependovirus / immunology*
  • Genetic Therapy
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Molecular Docking Simulation
  • Tropism*


  • Antibodies, Neutralizing
  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Capsid Proteins