Rebecca A Gillespie
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Researcher at Vaccine Research Center, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH
The adaptive immune system is highly sensitive to arrayed antigens, and multivalent display of viral glycoproteins on symmetric scaffolds has been found to substantially increase the elicitation of antigen-specific antibodies. Motivated by the considerable promise of this strategy for next-generation anti-viral vaccines, we set out to design new self-assembling protein nanoparticles with geometries specifically tailored to scaffold ectodomains of different viral glycoproteins. We first designed and characterized homo-trimers from designed repeat proteins with N-terminal helices positioned to match the C termini of several viral glycoprotein trimers. Oligomers found to experimentally adopt the designed configuration were then used to generate nanoparticles with tetrahedral, octahedral, or icosahedral symmetry. Examples of all three target symmetries were experimentally validated by cryo-electron microscopy and several were assessed for their ability to display viral glycoproteins via genetic fusion. Electron microscopy and antibody binding experiments demonstrated that the designed nanoparticles display conformationally intact native-like HIV-1 Env, influenza hemagglutinin, and prefusion RSV F trimers in the predicted geometries. This work demonstrates that novel nanoparticle immunogens can be designed from the bottom up with atomic-level accuracy and provides a general strategy for precisely controlling epitope presentation and accessibility.
Influenza vaccines targeting the highly-conserved stem of the hemagglutinin (HA) surface glycoprotein have the potential to protect against pandemic and drifted seasonal influenza viruses not covered by current vaccines. While HA stem-based immunogens derived from group 1 influenza A have been shown to induce intra-group heterosubtypic protection, HA stem-specific antibody lineages originating from group 2 may be more likely to possess broad cross-group reactivity. We report the structure-guided development of mammalian cell-expressed candidate vaccine immunogens based on influenza A group 2 H3 and H7 HA stem trimers displayed on self-assembling ferritin nanoparticles using an iterative, multipronged approach involving helix stabilization, loop optimization, disulfide bond addition, and side chain repacking. These immunogens were thermostable, formed uniform and symmetric nanoparticles, were recognized by cross-group-reactive broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) with nanomolar affinity, and elicited protective, homosubtypic antibodies in mice. Importantly, several immunogens were able to activate B cells expressing inferred unmutated common ancestor (UCA) versions of cross-group-reactive human bNAbs from two multi-donor classes, suggesting they could initiate elicitation of these bNAbs in humans.
A number of broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs) to influenza virus have been isolated, characterized and developed as potential countermeasures for seasonal influenza epidemic and pandemic. Deep characterization of these bnAbs and polyclonal sera is critical to our understanding of influenza immunity and for desgining universal influenza vaccines. However, conventional influenza virus neutralization assays with live viruses require high-containment laboratories and are difficult to standardize and roboticize. Here, we built a panel of engineered influenza viruses carrying a fluorescent reporter gene to replace an essential viral gene. This restricts virus replication to cells expressing the missing viral gene in trans, allowing it to be manipulated in a biosafety level 2 environment. Using this system, we characterize the neutralization profile of a set of published and new bnAbs with a panel consisting of 55 viruses that spans the near complete antigenic evolution of human H1N1 and H3N2 viruses, as well as pandemic viruses such as H5N1 and H7N9. Our system opens opportunities to systematically characterize influenza immunity in greater depth, including the response directed at the viral hemagglutinin stem, a major target of universal influenza vaccines.