The dense patch of high-mannose-type glycans surrounding the N332 glycan on the HIV envelope glycoprotein (Env) is targeted by multiple broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs). This region is relatively conserved, implying functional importance, the origins of which are not well understood. Here we describe the isolation of new bnAbs targeting this region. Examination of these and previously described antibodies to Env revealed that four different bnAb families targeted the 324GDIR327 peptide stretch at the base of the gp120 V3 loop and its nearby glycans. We found that this peptide stretch constitutes part of the CCR5 co-receptor binding site, with the high-mannose patch glycans serving to camouflage it from most antibodies. GDIR-glycan bnAbs, in contrast, bound both 324GDIR327 peptide residues and high-mannose patch glycans, which enabled broad reactivity against diverse HIV isolates. Thus, as for the CD4 binding site, bnAb effectiveness relies on circumventing the defenses of a critical functional region on Env.
Burton and colleagues compare a number of HIV broadly neutralizing antibodies of the same class and identify a stretch of residues at the base of gp120 V3 as commonly targeted. These residues are camouflaged by conserved glycans, but antibody recognition of both glycan and protein elements enables broad HIV neutralization.