Free Energy Perturbation Calculation of Relative Binding Free Energy between Broadly Neutralizing Antibodies and the gp120 Glycoprotein of HIV-1
UNLABELLED The gp120/gp41 HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein (Env) is highly glycosylated, with up to 50% of its mass consisting of N-linked glycans. This dense carbohydrate coat has emerged as a promising vaccine target, with its glycans acting as epitopes for a number of potent and broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs). Characterizing the glycan structures present on native HIV-1 Env is thus a critical goal for the design of Env immunogens. In this study, we used a complementary, multistep approach involving ion mobility mass spectrometry and high-performance liquid chromatography to comprehensively characterize the glycan structures present on HIV-1 gp120 produced in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs). The capacity of different expression systems, including pseudoviral particles and recombinant cell surface trimers, to reproduce native-like glycosylation was then assessed. A population of oligomannose glycans on gp120 was reproduced across all expression systems, supporting this as an intrinsic property of Env that can be targeted for vaccine design. In contrast, Env produced in HEK 293T cells failed to accurately reproduce the highly processed complex-type glycan structures observed on PBMC-derived gp120, and in particular the precise linkage of sialic acid residues that cap these glycans. Finally, we show that unlike for gp120, the glycans decorating gp41 are mostly complex-type sugars, consistent with the glycan specificity of bnAbs that target this region. These findings provide insights into the glycosylation of native and recombinant HIV-1 Env and can be used to inform strategies for immunogen design and preparation. IMPORTANCE Development of an HIV vaccine is desperately needed to control new infections, and elicitation of HIV bnAbs will likely be an important component of an effective vaccine. Increasingly, HIV bnAbs are being identified that bind to the N-linked glycans coating the HIV envelope glycoproteins gp120 and gp41, highlighting them as important targets for vaccine design. It is therefore important to characterize the glycan structures present on native, virion-associated gp120 and gp41 for development of vaccines that accurately mimic native-Env glycosylation. In this study, we used a number of analytical techniques to precisely study the structures of both the oligomannose and complex-type glycans present on native Env to provide a reference for determining the ability of potential HIV immunogens to accurately replicate the glycosylation pattern on these native structures.