Soluble HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein (Env) immunogens are a prime constituent of candidate vaccines designed to induce broadly neutralizing antibodies. Several lines of evidence suggest that enhancing Env immunogen thermostability can improve neutralizing antibody (NAb) responses. Here, we generated BG505 SOSIP.v9 trimers, which displayed virtually no reactivity with non-neutralizing antibodies and showed increased global and epitope thermostability, compared to previous BG505 SOSIP versions. Chemical crosslinking of BG505 SOSIP.v9 further increased the melting temperature to 91.3 °C, which is almost 25 °C higher than that of the prototype SOSIP.664 trimer. Next, we compared the immunogenicity of a palette of BG505-based SOSIP trimers with a gradient of thermostabilities in rabbits. We also included SOSIP.v9 proteins in which a strain-specific immunodominant epitope was masked by glycans to redirect the NAb response to other subdominant epitopes. We found that increased trimer thermostability correlated with increased potency and consistency of the autologous NAb response. Furthermore, glycan masking steered the NAb response to subdominant epitopes without decreasing the potency of the autologous NAb response. In summary, SOSIP.v9 trimers and their glycan masked versions represent an improved platform for HIV-1 Env based vaccination strategies.
Department of Medical Microbiology, Amsterdam UMC, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands.