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Surface Engineering of Recombinant RNA Coliphage Qβ to Display gp41 MembraneProximal External-Region Epitopes from HIV-1

Surface Engineering of Recombinant RNA Coliphage Qβ to Display gp41 MembraneProximal External-Region Epitopes from HIV-1

Alain Bopda Waffo1, 2*, Loveline N. Ngu3,4, Rana L. Singleton1 , Timothy Egbo1 , Josué L. Simo11,13, Carrie A. Sanders1 , Georgia E Ambada3,7, Nadesh N. Nji3 , Apeh A. Ngoh8 , QianaL. Matthews1,14, Boakai K. Robertson1,14, Thibau F. Tchouangueu3,13, Abel Lissom3,7, , Swapnil Bawage1, 2, ColinceTchadji3,7 Arinze S. Okoli10, Charles O. Esimone9 , Rebecca Chukwuanukwu12, Wilfred Mbacham4,5,6, Lazare Kaptue11, Godwin W. Nchinda3*

Journal Title:Journal of Clinical And Experimental Immunology

Introduction: The membrane proximal external region (MPER) of HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein-41 (gp41) is targeted by several broadly neutralizing antibodies whose conserved linear epitopes are promising targets for vaccine design. However, a formidable challenge has remained the difficulty to design and deliver MPER based immunogens for the efficient induction of such broadly neutralizing HIV-1 specific antibodies (bnAb). This is mainly because the linear bnAb MPER epitopes are poorly accessible to the immune system. The overall objective of this study therefore was the development of a novel RNA Qβ phage display system not only for monitoring anti-MPER specific antibody responses but equally as potential immunogens in future HIV-1 vaccine designs. Method: To overcome the challenge of effective presentation of MPER to the immune system we have selectively engineered the surface of the RNA coliphage Qβ to expose all MPER bnAb epitopes. Briefly, DNA representing a 50 amino acids consensus region within the HIV-1 gp41 MPER was fused in frame with the minor coat protein A1of the Qβ phage. Three variant MPER expression cassettes were obtained with the MPER cDNA in frame with the minor coat protein A1 gene, including pQβMPER, pQβMPERHis and pQβMPERN. The expression cassettes were used for the production of QβMPER recombinant phages after transformation of E. coli HB101 strain. Antigencity of the phages was assessed with plasma from long standing anti-retroviral naïve HIV-1 infected people from the CIRCB AFRODEC cohort while immunogenicity studies were done in female Balb/c mice. Results: The initial titers of all recombinant phages including QβMPER, QβMPERHis and QβMPERN were 104 plaque forming units/ml (pfu/ml). This was significantly lower (P<0.001) relative to the 108 pfu/ml of wild type phage, but was scaled up to 1014pfu/ml. The fusion of MPER and Qβ genes was confirmed by RT-PCR followed by gel electrophoresis and sequencing. Specific recognition of some reported bnAb epitopes within MPER were confirmed in ELISA using the three recombinant QβMPER phages together with an MPER restrictive peptide as antigens and the bnAb 4E10, Z13e1, 2F5 and 10E8 as antibodies. Next the prevalence of MPER-specific antibodies was determined in plasma from long standing antiretroviral naïve HIV-1 infected participants of the CIRCB AFRODEC cohort. The greater majority (84%) of participants’ plasma showed MPER peptide specific reactivity with anti-MPER specific IgG antibody titers ranging from 200 to 409600 comparative to background IgG antibody titer with the Qβ phage alone as antigen or plasma from seronegative participants. In immunogenicity studies in Balb/c mice the recombinant phages QβMPERN and QβMPERHis induced significantly high Anti-MPER-specific IgG antibody responses (P<0.04) in at least 60 % of mice following three inoculations of each recombinant phage. Conclusion: Thus, these novel recombinantQβMPER phages can be used to monitor MPER-specific immune responses in HIV-1 exposed or infected people. In addition the recombinant QβMPER phages could be used as immunogens either alone as demonstrated here in mice or in combination with other strategies for the induction of MPER specific immunity against HIV-1.