HIV envelope protein approach elicits vaccine immune response

By focusing on HIV's envelope protein and targeting immature B cells--which the virus homes in on--researchers have found a new approach for potential vax candidates. The researchers--from Duke University Medical Center, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School--created an envelope protein that attached to B cells better than HIV's own outer coating.

"Roadblocks thrown up by HIV have plagued HIV vaccine development," said Hua-Xin Liao, co-senior author of the study, in a release. "HIV hides its Achilles' heels of vulnerability on its outer coat by covering them with sugars. This covering is the result of virus mutations as the virus became resistant to antibodies."

The scientists removed many sugars from the protein, and the resulting vaccine showed good immune responses in rhesus macaque trials. It's the first time an altered envelope protein has had a better immune response and attached to the immature B cells better than the virus itself.

"This is an important step forward," said Nelson Michael, director of the Military HIV Research Program at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, in a release. "The observation that improving envelope immunogen binding to immature B cell receptors can improve immunogenicity provides new hope for design of strategies for inducing difficult-to-induce neutralizing antibodies."

The study was published in PLoS Pathogens.

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