Characterization of HIV-1 neutralization escape mutants

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Infection by molecularly cloned HIV-1, in the presence of a high-titre neutralizing monoclonal antibody (MAb), resulted in the selection of plaques in MT4 cells releasing HIV resistant to neutralization by the same MAb. The epitope recognized by the MAb was mapped to the V3 neutralization epitope at amino acids 305–321. The HIV-1 variants showed a reduced binding capacity for the selecting MAb as determined by immunofluorescence. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification of complementary DNA derived from viral RNA, cloning and sequencing identified a base pair (bp) change CG at position 6663 in variant 110.5/1, predicting a change at amino acid 308 ArgGly. No other changes in the epitope were observed by sequencing three other variants. Differential hybridization of PCR amplified viral RNA and DNA, with oligonucleotides specific for the observed bp change or the ‘wild type’ sequence, indicated that the variants 110.5/1 and 110.5/7 were genotypically mixed for 308Gly/Arg. Subsequent screening of biologically ‘recloned’ variants 110.5/1 and 110.5/7 identified two subclones homozygous for the 308Gly change. The ArgGly change appears to affect the binding of the antibody to the epitope, since the linear peptide substituting 308Gly for ‘wild type’ 308Arg was 1000 times less potent in blocking the neutralization of parental HIV. Amino-acid residue 308 thus appears to be crucial for antibody binding to the epitope. In addition, mutations distant from the monoclonal antibody binding site may also affect neutralization by antibodies recognizing the V3 loop.

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