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Concept: Antigen


Induction of broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs) is a primary goal of HIV vaccine development. VRC01-class bnAbs are important vaccine leads because their precursor B cells targeted by an engineered priming immunogen are relatively common among humans. This priming immunogen has demonstrated the ability to initiate a bnAb response in animal models, but recall and maturation toward bnAb development has not been shown. Here, we report the development of boosting immunogens designed to guide the genetic and functional maturation of previously primed VRC01-class precursors. Boosting a transgenic mouse model expressing germline VRC01 heavy chains produced broad neutralization of near-native isolates (N276A) and weak neutralization of fully native HIV. Functional and genetic characteristics indicate that the boosted mAbs are consistent with partially mature VRC01-class antibodies and place them on a maturation trajectory that leads toward mature VRC01-class bnAbs. The results show how reductionist sequential immunization can guide maturation of HIV bnAb responses.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, Genetics, Gene expression, Bacteria, Developmental biology, Vaccine, Antigen


Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is a lineage C betacoronavirus that since its emergence in 2012 has caused outbreaks in human populations with case-fatality rates of ∼36%. As in other coronaviruses, the spike (S) glycoprotein of MERS-CoV mediates receptor recognition and membrane fusion and is the primary target of the humoral immune response during infection. Here we use structure-based design to develop a generalizable strategy for retaining coronavirus S proteins in the antigenically optimal prefusion conformation and demonstrate that our engineered immunogen is able to elicit high neutralizing antibody titers against MERS-CoV. We also determined high-resolution structures of the trimeric MERS-CoV S ectodomain in complex with G4, a stem-directed neutralizing antibody. The structures reveal that G4 recognizes a glycosylated loop that is variable among coronaviruses and they define four conformational states of the trimer wherein each receptor-binding domain is either tightly packed at the membrane-distal apex or rotated into a receptor-accessible conformation. Our studies suggest a potential mechanism for fusion initiation through sequential receptor-binding events and provide a foundation for the structure-based design of coronavirus vaccines.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, Protein, Immunology, Humoral immunity, Immunity, Adaptive immune system, Antigen


Broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs) against the N332 supersite of the HIV envelope (Env) trimer are the most common bnAbs induced during infection, making them promising leads for vaccine design. Wild-type Env glycoproteins lack detectable affinity for supersite-bnAb germline precursors and are therefore unsuitable immunogens to prime supersite-bnAb responses. We employed mammalian cell surface display to design stabilized Env trimers with affinity for germline-reverted precursors of PGT121-class supersite bnAbs. The trimers maintained native-like antigenicity and structure, activated PGT121 inferred-germline B cells ex vivo when multimerized on liposomes, and primed PGT121-like responses in PGT121 inferred-germline knockin mice. Design intermediates have levels of epitope modification between wild-type and germline-targeting trimers; their mutation gradient suggests sequential immunization to induce bnAbs, in which the germline-targeting prime is followed by progressively less-mutated design intermediates and, lastly, with native trimers. The vaccine design strategies described could be utilized to target other epitopes on HIV or other pathogens.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, Gene, Bacteria, Vaccination, B cell, Antigen, Epitope


Vaccination has had a major impact on the control of infectious diseases. However, there are still many infectious diseases for which the development of an effective vaccine has been elusive. In many cases the failure to devise vaccines is a consequence of the inability of vaccine candidates to evoke appropriate immune responses. This is especially true where cellular immunity is required for protective immunity and this problem is compounded by the move toward devising sub-unit vaccines. Over the past decade nanoscale size (<1000 nm) materials such as virus-like particles, liposomes, ISCOMs, polymeric, and non-degradable nanospheres have received attention as potential delivery vehicles for vaccine antigens which can both stabilize vaccine antigens and act as adjuvants. Importantly, some of these nanoparticles (NPs) are able to enter antigen-presenting cells by different pathways, thereby modulating the immune response to the antigen. This may be critical for the induction of protective Th1-type immune responses to intracellular pathogens. Their properties also make them suitable for the delivery of antigens at mucosal surfaces and for intradermal administration. In this review we compare the utilities of different NP systems for the delivery of sub-unit vaccines and evaluate the potential of these delivery systems for the development of new vaccines against a range of pathogens.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, Malaria, Vaccine, Vaccination, Immunology, Antigen, Smallpox


Dendritic cells (DCs) are considered the most potent antigen-presenting cells (APCs), which directly prime or cross-prime MHC I-restricted cytotoxic T cells (CTLs). However, recent evidence suggests the existence of other, as-yet unidentified APCs also able to prime T cells. To identify those APCs, we used adenoviral (rAd) vectors, which do not infect DCs but selectively accumulate in CD169(+) macrophages (MPs). In mice that lack DCs, infection of CD169(+) MPs was sufficient to prime CTLs specific for all epitopes tested. In contrast, CTL responses relying exclusively on cross-presenting DCs were biased to selected strong MHC I-binding peptides only. When both DCs and MPs were absent, no CTL responses could be elicited. Therefore, CD169(+) MPs can be considered APCs that significantly contribute to CTL responses.

Concepts: Immune system, White blood cell, Virus, Antigen, Cytotoxic T cell, Dendritic cell, MHC class I, Antigen-presenting cell


Libraries based on an isolated human immunoglobulin G1 (IgG1) constant domain 2 (CH2) have been previously diversified by random mutagenesis. However, native isolated CH2 is not very stable and the generation of many mutations could lead to an increase in immunogenicity. Recently, we demonstrated that engineering an additional disulfide bond and removing seven N-terminal residues results in an engineered antibody domain (eAd) (m01s) with highly increased stability and enhanced binding to human neonatal Fc receptor (FcRn) (Gong et al, JBC, 2009 and 2011). We and others have also previously shown that grafting of the heavy chain complementarity region 3 (CDR-H3 (H3)) onto cognate positions of the variable domain leads to highly diversified libraries from which a number of binders to various antigens have been selected. However, grafting of H3s to non-cognate positions in constant domains results in additional residues at the junctions of H3s and the CH2 framework. Here we describe a new method based on multi-step PCR that allows the precise replacement of loop FG (no changes in its flanking sequences) by human H3s from another library. Using this method and limited mutagenesis of loops BC and DE we generated an eAd phage-displayed library. Panning of this library against an HIV-1 gp41 MPER peptide resulted in selection of a binder, m2a1, which neutralized HIV-1 isolates from different clades with modest activity and retained the m01s capability of binding to FcRn. This result provides a proof of concept that CH2-based antigen binders that also mimic to certain extent other functions of full-size antibodies (binding to FcRn) can be generated; we have previously hypothesized that such binders can be made and coined the term nanoantibodies (nAbs). Further studies in animal models and in humans will show how useful nAbs could be as therapeutics and diagnostics.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, Protein, Fc receptor, Antigen, Epitope, Variable, Binder


Hepatitis B (HepB) vaccination is the primary means of preventing infections and complications caused by hepatitis B virus (HBV). On February 21, 2018, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended Heplisav-B (HepB-CpG), a yeast-derived vaccine prepared with a novel adjuvant, administered as a 2-dose series (0, 1 month) for use in persons aged ≥18 years. The ACIP Hepatitis Vaccines Work Group conducted a systematic review of the evidence, including data from four randomized controlled trials assessing prevention of HBV infection and six randomized controlled trials assessing adverse events in adults. Seroprotective antibody to hepatitis B surface antigen (anti-HBs) levels were achieved in 90.0%-100.0% of subjects receiving HepB-CpG (Dynavax Technologies Corporation), compared with 70.5%-90.2% of subjects receiving Engerix-B (GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals). The benefits of protection with 2 doses administered over 1 month make HepB-CpG an important option for prevention of HBV.

Concepts: Immune system, Vaccine, Vaccination, Randomized controlled trial, Antigen, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis B virus, Hepatitis B vaccine


Many pathogens make use of antigenic variation as a way to evade the host immune response. A key mechanism for immune evasion and persistent infection by the Lyme disease spirochete, Borrelia burgdorferi, is antigenic variation of the VlsE surface protein. Recombination results in changes in the VlsE surface protein that prevent recognition by VlsE-specific antibodies in the infected host. Despite the presence of a substantial number of additional proteins residing on the bacterial surface, VlsE is the only known antigen that exhibits ongoing variation of its surface epitopes. This suggests that B. burgdorferi may utilize a VlsE-mediated system for immune avoidance of its surface antigens. To address this, the requirement of VlsE for host reinfection by the Lyme disease pathogen was investigated. Host-adapted wild type and VlsE mutant spirochetes were used to reinfect immunocompetent mice that had naturally cleared an infection with a VlsE-deficient clone. Our results demonstrate that variable VlsE is necessary for reinfection by B. burgdorferi, and this ability is directly related to evasion of the host antibody response. Moreover, the data presented here raise the possibility that VlsE prevents recognition of B. burgdorferi surface antigens from host antibodies. Overall, our findings represent a significant advance in our knowledge of immune evasion by B. burgdorferi, and provide insight to the possible mechanisms involved in VlsE-mediated immune avoidance.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, Bacteria, Lyme disease, Antigen, Epitope, Borrelia burgdorferi, Borrelia


The characteristics of the T cell response to the members of oral flora are poorly understood. We characterized the antibody and T cell responses to FadA and Td92, adhesins from Fusobacterium nucleatum, an oral commensal, and Treponema denticola, a periodontal pathogen, respectively. Peripheral blood and saliva were obtained from healthy individuals and patients with untreated chronic periodontitis (CP, n = 11 paris) and after successful treatment of the disease (n = 9). The levels of antigen-specific antibody were measured by ELISA. In plasma, IgG1 was the most abundant isotype of Ab for both Ags, followed by IgA and then IgG4. The levels of FadA-specific salivary IgA (sIgA) were higher than Td92-specific sIgA and the FadA-specific IgA levels observed in plasma. However, the periodontal health status of the individuals did not affect the levels of FadA- or Td92-specific antibody. Even healthy individuals contained FadA- and Td92-specific CD4(+) T cells, as determined by the detection of intracytoplasmic CD154 after short-term in vitro stimulation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) with the antigens. Patients with CP tended to possess increased numbers of FadA- and Td92-specific CD4(+) T cells but reduced numbers of Td92-specific Foxp3(+)CD4(+) Tregs than the healthy subjects. Both FadA and Td92 induced the production of IFNγ and IL-10 but inhibited the secretion of IL-4 by PBMCs. In conclusion, F. nucleatum induced Th3 (sIgA)- and Th1 (IFNγ and IgG1)-dominant immune responses, whereas T. denticola induced a Th1 (IFNγ and IgG1)-dominant response. This IFNγ-dominant cytokine response was impaired in CP patients, and the Td92-induced IFNγ levels were negatively associated with periodontal destruction in patients. These findings may provide new insights into the homeostatic interaction between the immune system and oral bacteria and the pathogenesis of periodontitis.

Concepts: Immune system, White blood cell, Antibody, Bacteria, Blood, Immunology, Humoral immunity, Antigen


Viral subunit vaccines often contain immunodominant non-neutralizing epitopes that divert host immune responses. These epitopes should be eliminated in vaccine design, but there is no reliable method for evaluating an epitope’s capacity to elicit neutralizing immune responses. Here we introduce a new concept ‘neutralizing immunogenicity index’ (NII) to evaluate an epitope’s neutralizing immunogenicity. To determine the NII, we mask the epitope with a glycan probe and then assess the epitope’s contribution to the vaccine’s overall neutralizing immunogenicity. As proof-of-concept, we measure the NII for different epitopes on an immunogen comprised of the receptor-binding domain from MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Further, we design a variant form of this vaccine by masking an epitope that has a negative NII score. This engineered vaccine demonstrates significantly enhanced efficacy in protecting transgenic mice from lethal MERS-CoV challenge. Our study may guide the rational design of highly effective subunit vaccines to combat MERS-CoV and other life-threatening viruses.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, Vaccine, Vaccination, Immunology, Antigen, Epitope, Polyclonal B cell response