July 8, 2021Miriam Bergeret, MSc
Researchers at Duke Human Vaccine Institute have discovered a new type of antibody that can bind to glycans—a type of sugar found on the surface of cells—on the outer surface of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which could unlock new options for an effective HIV vaccine. The research was published online in May in the journal Cell.
According to the researchers, more than 50 percent of HIV’s surface is covered by glycans, representing a target for potential glycan-specific antibodies that could neutralize and break down the virus’s envelope. But it’s not that simple—the glycans covering HIV are similar to those on human cells, which means they act as a type of disguise to evade the host immune response.
However, the newly identified type of antibodies—called Fab-dimerized glycan-reactive (FDG) antibodies—have a unique structure and can bind tightly to specific glycans on HIV but not on other cells.
The researchers show that the FDG antibodies can be used to activate the immune system’s B-cell response, which neutralizes viruses. This work demonstrates that the antibodies could be used to design vaccines that target the specific glycans on HIV.
The study also notes that the FDG antibodies could be used to target other pathogens, including pathogenic yeast called Candida albicans and viruses such as influenza and SARS-CoV-2. Future research will focus on developing ways to use FDG antibodies to target these pathogens.