Stabilization of the HIV-1 Envelope glycoprotein trimer (Env) in its native pre-fusion closed conformation is regarded as one of several requirements for the induction of neutralizing antibody (nAb) responses, which, in turn, will most likely be a prerequisite for the development of an efficacious preventive vaccine. Here, we systematically analyzed how the stepwise stabilization of a clade C consensus (ConC) Env immunogen impacts biochemical and biophysical protein traits such as antigenicity, thermal stability, structural integrity, and particle size distribution. The increasing degree of conformational rigidification positively correlates with favorable protein characteristics, leading to optimized homogeneity of the protein preparations, increased thermal stability, and an overall favorable binding profile of structure-dependent broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs) and non-neutralizing antibodies (non-nAbs). We confirmed that increasing the structural integrity and stability of the Env trimers positively correlates with the quality of induced antibody responses by the immunogens. These and other data contribute to the selection of ConCv5 KIKO as novel Env immunogens for use within the European Union's H2020 Research Consortium EHVA (European HIV Alliance) for further preclinical analysis and phase 1 clinical development.
Keywords: HIV vaccine; antibody response; centralized sequence; clade C; consensus; envelope; immunization; immunogen design; peptide microarray; stabilized trimer.