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Recent Publication

Commonly Elicited Antibodies against the Base of the HIV-1 Env Trimer Guide the Population-Level Evolution of a Structure-Regulating Region in gp41


The antibody response against the HIV-1 envelope glycoproteins (Envs) guides evolution of this protein within each host. Whether antibodies with similar target specificities are elicited in different individuals and affect the population-level evolution of Env is poorly understood. To address this question, we analyzed properties of emerging variants in the gp41 fusion peptide-proximal region (FPPR) that exhibit distinct evolutionary patterns in HIV-1 clade B. For positions 534, 536, and 539 in the FPPR, alanine was the major emerging variant. However, 534A and 536A show a constant frequency in the population between 1979 and 2016, whereas 539A is gradually increasing. To understand the basis for these differences, we introduced alanine substitutions in the FPPR of primary HIV-1 strains and examined their functional and antigenic properties. Evolutionary patterns could not be explained by fusion competence or structural stability of the emerging variants. Instead, 534A and 536A exhibited modest but significant increases in sensitivity to antibodies against the membrane-proximal external region (MPER) and gp120-gp41 interface. These Envs were also more sensitive to poorly neutralizing sera from HIV-1-infected individuals than the clade ancestral form or 539A variant. Competition binding assays confirmed for all sera tested the presence of antibodies against the base of the Env trimer that compete with monoclonal antibodies targeting the MPER and gp120-gp41 interface. Our findings suggest that weakly neutralizing antibodies against the trimer base are commonly elicited; they do not exert catastrophic population size reduction effects on emerging variants but, instead, determine their set point frequencies in the population and historical patterns of change. IMPORTANCE: Infection by HIV-1 elicits formation of antibodies that target the viral Env proteins and can inactivate the virus. The specific targets of these antibodies vary among infected individuals. It is unclear whether some target specificities are shared among the antibody responses of different individuals. We observed that antibodies against the base of the Env protein are commonly elicited during infection. The selective pressure applied by such antibodies is weak. As a result, they do not completely eliminate the sensitive forms of the virus from the population, but maintain their frequency at a low level that has not increased since the beginning of the AIDS pandemic. Interestingly, the changes in Env do not occur at the sites targeted by the antibodies, but at a distinct region of Env, the fusion peptide-proximal region, which regulates their exposure.

  • Roberth Anthony Rojas Chávez, Devlin Boyt, Nathan Schwery, Changze Han, Li Wu, Hillel Haim