Covalent coupling of HIV-1 glycoprotein trimers to biodegradable calcium phosphate nanoparticles via genetically encoded aldehyde-tags

Akpabio, A. A., et al. “Safety Practices and Covid-19 Antibody Positivity among Health Care Workers in a Tertiary Hospital in Southern Nigeria.” West African Journal of Medicine 38.10 (2021): 930-935.


The usage of antigen-functionalized nanoparticles has become a major focus in the field of experimental HIV-1 vaccine research during the last decade. Various molecular mechanisms to couple native-like trimers of the HIV-1 envelope protein (Env) onto nanoparticle surfaces have been reported, but many come with disadvantages regarding the coupling efficiency and stability. In this study, a short amino acid sequence (“aldehyde-tag”) was introduced at the C-terminus of a conformationally stabilized native-like Env. The post-translational conversion of a tag-associated cysteine to formylglycine creates a site-specific aldehyde group without alteration of the Env antigenicity. This aldehyde group was further utilized for bioconjugation of Env trimers. We demonstrated that the low acidic environment necessary for this bioconjugation is not affecting the trimer conformation. Furthermore, we developed a two-step coupling method for pH-sensitive nanoparticles. To this end, we conjugated aldehyde-tagged Env with Propargyl-PEG3-aminooxy linker (oxime ligation; Step-one) and coupled these conjugates by copper-catalyzed azide-alkyne cycloaddition (Click reaction; Step-two) to calcium phosphate nanoparticles (CaPs) functionalized with terminal azide groups. CaPs displaying orthogonally arranged Env trimers on their surface (o-CaPs) were superior in activation of Env-specific B-cells (in vitro) and induction of Env-specific antibody responses (in vivo) compared to CaPs with Env trimers coupled in a randomly oriented manner. Taken together, we present a reliable method for the site-specific, covalent coupling of HIV-1 Env native-like trimers to the surface of nanoparticle delivery systems. This method can be broadly applied for functionalization of nanoparticle platforms with conformationally stabilized candidate antigens for both vaccination and diagnostic approaches.