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HIV-1 fitness cost associated with escape from the VRC01 class of CD4 binding site neutralizing antibodies.

ABSTRACT

Broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) have been isolated from selected HIV-1-infected individuals and shown to bind to conserved sites on the envelope glycoprotein (Env). However, circulating plasma virus in these donors is usually resistant to autologous isolated bNAbs, indicating that during chronic infection, HIV-1 can escape from even broadly cross-reactive antibodies. Here, we evaluate if such viral escape is associated with an impairment of viral replication. Antibodies of the VRC01 class target the functionally conserved CD4 binding site and share a structural mode of gp120 recognition that includes mimicry of the CD4 receptor. We examined naturally occurring VRC01-sensitive and -resistant viral strains, as well as their mutated sensitive or resistant variants, and tested point mutations in the backbone of the VRC01-sensitive isolate YU2. In several cases, VRC01 resistance was associated with a reduced efficiency of CD4-mediated viral entry and diminished viral replication. Several mutations, alone or in combination, in the loop D or β23-V5 region of Env conferred a high level of resistance to VRC01 class antibodies, suggesting a preferred escape pathway. We further mapped the VRC01-induced escape pathway in vivo using Envs from donor 45, from whom antibody VRC01 was isolated. Initial escape mutations, including the addition of a key glycan, occurred in loop D and were associated with impaired viral replication; however, compensatory mutations restored full replicative fitness. These data demonstrate that escape from VRC01 class antibodies can diminish viral replicative fitness, but compensatory changes may explain the limited impact of neutralizing antibodies during the course of natural HIV-1 infection.Some antibodies that arise during natural HIV-1 infection bind to conserved regions on the virus envelope glycoprotein and potently neutralize the majority of diverse HIV-1 strains. The VRC01 class of antibodies blocks the conserved CD4 receptor binding site interaction that is necessary for viral entry, raising the possibility that viral escape from antibody neutralization might exert detrimental effects on viral function. Here, we show that escape from VRC01 class antibodies can be associated with impaired viral entry and replication; however, during the course of natural infection, compensatory mutations restore the ability of the virus to replicate normally.