Studies of the immune response to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) have been hampered by the antigenic diversity of the HIV envelope protein. In an effort to predict the efficacy of vaccination we have compared the systemic anti-envelope antibody response in seronegative volunteers immunized with recombinant gp160 (either in vaccinia or as soluble protein produced in baculovirus) derived from the HTLV-IIIB strain of HIV-1 and in two laboratory workers accidentally infected with the same strain. 11 of 14 vaccinees responded to immunization by producing anti-gp160 of similar titer and the same isotype as that seen in the laboratory workers. Four vaccinees also had antibody to the principal neutralizing domain (V3 loop) that was comparable in titer with that seen in the laboratory workers, but the fine specificity of anti-V3 antibody was qualitatively different in the two groups. Antibody that can block the interaction between CD4 and gp120 was present at comparable levels in three vaccines and the lab workers. Neutralizing antibody titers were markedly lower in the vaccinees than in the laboratory workers. In seven of the vaccinees, an immunodominant epitope was at amino acid 720-740. Analyses of monoclonal antibodies to this region indicate that they do not neutralize, bind to infected cells, nor function as immunotoxins. Although the anti-gp160 antibody response was of similar magnitude in both infected and vaccinated individuals, there were important qualitative differences.
S H Pincus, K G Messer, D H Schwartz, G K Lewis, B S Graham, W A Blattner, G Fisher