By exploiting the intrinsic chemistry of retroviruses, we have developed a novel method for generating whole inactivated virion vaccine immunogens with functional envelope glycoproteins. The method takes advantage of the fact that the internal proteins of retroviruses are adapted to the intracellular (reducing) environment, and have cysteine residues present in thiol-form (S-H), while the surface proteins of retroviruses (the envelope glycoproteins SU and TM) are adapted to the (oxidizing) environment of the extracellular milieu, and have their cysteines present as disulfides (S-S). Treatment of retroviral virions with appropriate mild oxidizing agents thus results in preferential covalent modification and functional inactivation of key S-H-containing internal viral proteins, such as the nucleocapsid (NC) protein, that are required for infectivity, while the envelope glycoproteins with their disulfide bonded cysteines remain unaffected. This treatment thus results in virions that do not retain detectable infectivity, but preserves the conformational and functional integrity of the envelope glycoproteins. We have extensively used the disulfide reagent 2,2-dithiodipyridine (aldrithiol-2, AT-2) to inactivate HIV and SIV via this mechanism and such inactivated virions appear to be a promising vaccine immunogen based on macaque studies. We have biochemically characterized the targets and mechanisms of inactivation involved in AT-2 treatment of virions, and investigated the kinetics of inactivation. Although extremely unlikely under physiological conditions, reversibility of this type of inactivation is a theoretical concern. We have therefore conducted a series of in vitro experiments, in cell free systems and in cell culture, to evaluate this possibility. The results indicate that as judged by both biochemical and biological (infectivity) criteria, inactivation by AT-2 does not appear to be reversible under conditions likely to obtain in vivo.
Lentivirus, Covalent Modification, AT-2 treatment, immunogen, dithiodipyridine, nucleocapsid
AIDS Vaccine Program, SAIC Frederick, National Cancer Institute at Frederick, Building 535,Fifth Floor, Frederick, MD 21702, USA