Macrophage-HIV interactions : aptamers against the gp120 surface envelope glycoprotein of the macrophage tropic strains of HIV-1
HIV-1 has evolved a number of strategies in response to current anti-retroviral drugs and the selection pressure of humoral and cellular immunity. In particular, R5 viral strains that are essential for AIDS pathogenesis are very resistant to neutralization by antibodies. Therefore, the aim of this thesis was to develop synthetic nucleic acid ligands, aptamers, against gp120 of an R5 strain of HIV-1, with a view of using aptamers as novel neutralization molecules and analytical tools to study HIV-1 entry into target cells. The central hypothesis of this thesis was that aptamers by virtue of their small size and slow dissociation rates, compared to antibodies, would easily access and bind occluded gp120 neutralization sites. Using the SELEX protocol and SPR technology, I isolated 2'-Fluoro-pyrimidine-RNA aptamers against HIV-lBa-L monomeric gp120. Most of these aptamers not only bound gp120 with high affinities but also neutralized R5 primary isolates in human PBMC by 1,000 to 100,000-fold, truly unprecedented when compared with natural ligands such as antibodies. Some aptamers, like B4, defined a conserved site of gp120 that could not mutate to escape neutralization following stringent selection, in vitro, for breakthrough virus. This was consistent with subsequent findings that B4 aptatope (binding site) overlaps a poorly immunogenic but highly conserved CD4-induced epitope as determined by competition with 17b and 48d mAbs that map to this neutralization epitope on the gp120. This study was thus the first of its kind to describe neutralization of HIV-1 primary isolates by a ligand against the CD4-induced epitope. Most intriguing, although B4 potently neutralized HIV-1Ba-L infection in PBMC, which is a mixed T cell and macrophage population, it modestly neutralized infection of the same virus in a purified culture of macrophages. These findings are intriguing in that they suggest that aptamers could be used to dissect unique sites on the virus that interact with target cell surface in ways that have not been revealed heretofore, and would help understand better HIV-1 entry pathways, especially in macrophages. Thus neutralizing aptamers such as these could be exploited to provide leads in developing alternative anti-HIV-1 drugs and a deeper understanding of the molecular interactions between the virus and its host cell.