Are Llamas the key to stopping HIV?
Two recent papers suggest that llamas produce antibodies which have wide neutralizing ability for HIV. This gives the potential for a vaccine. Given HIV’s (relatively) slow rate of transmission, an effective vaccine could eliminate this plague.
Llama antibody fragments recognizing various epitopes of the CD4bs neutralize a broad range of HIV-1 subtypes A, B and C.
Strokappe N, Szynol A, Aasa-Chapman M, Gorlani A, Forsman Quigley A, Hulsik DL, Chen L, Weiss R, de Haard H, Verrips T.
PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e33298.
Many of the neutralising antibodies, isolated to date, display limited activities against the globally most prevalent HIV-1 subtypes A and C. Therefore, those subtypes are considered to be an important target for antibody-based therapy. Variable domains of llama heavy chain antibodies (VHH) have some superior properties compared with classical antibodies. Therefore we describe the application of trimeric forms of envelope proteins (Env), derived from HIV-1 of subtype A and B/C, for a prolonged immunization of two llamas. A panel of VHH, which interfere with CD4 binding to HIV-1 Env were selected with use of panning. The results of binding and competition assays to various Env, including a variant with a stabilized CD4-binding state (gp120(Ds2)), cross-competition experiments, maturation analysis and neutralisation assays, enabled us to classify the selected VHH into three groups. The VHH of group I were efficient mainly against viruses of subtype A, C and B’/C. The VHH of group II resemble the broadly neutralising antibody (bnmAb) b12, neutralizing mainly subtype B and C viruses, however some had a broader neutralisation profile. A representative of the third group, 2E7, had an even higher neutralization breadth, neutralizing 21 out of the 26 tested strains belonging to the A, A/G, B, B/C and C subtypes. To evaluate the contribution of certain amino acids to the potency of the VHH a small set of the mutants were constructed. Surprisingly this yielded one mutant with slightly improved neutralisation potency against 92UG37.A9 (subtype A) and 96ZM651.02 (subtype C). These findings and the well-known stability of VHH indicate the potential application of these VHH as anti-HIV-1 microbicides.
J Exp Med. 2012 Jun 4;209(6):1091-103. Potent and broad neutralization of HIV-1 by a llama antibody elicited by immunization. McCoy LE, Quigley AF, Strokappe NM, Bulmer-Thomas B, Seaman MS, Mortier D, Rutten L, Chander N, Edwards CJ, Ketteler R, Davis D, Verrips T, Weiss RA.
Llamas (Lama glama) naturally produce heavy chain-only antibodies (Abs) in addition to conventional Abs. The variable regions (VHH) in these heavy chain-only Abs demonstrate comparable affinity and specificity for antigens to conventional immunoglobulins despite their much smaller size. To date, immunizations in humans and animal models have yielded only Abs with limited ability to neutralize HIV-1. In this study, a VHH phagemid library generated from a llama that was multiply immunized with recombinant trimeric HIV-1 envelope proteins (Envs) was screened directly for HIV-1 neutralization. One VHH, L8CJ3 (J3), neutralized 96 of 100 tested HIV-1 strains, encompassing subtypes A, B, C, D, BC, AE, AG, AC, ACD, CD, and G. J3 also potently neutralized chimeric simian-HIV strains with HIV subtypes B and C Env. The sequence of J3 is highly divergent from previous anti-HIV-1 VHH and its own germline sequence. J3 achieves broad and potent neutralization of HIV-1 via interaction with the CD4-binding site of HIV-1 Env. This study may represent a new benchmark for immunogens to be included in B cell-based vaccines and supports the development of VHH as anti-HIV-1 microbicides.