The gp120 envelope glycoprotein of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) is a dominant target against which the host's humoral immune response is directed. Unfortunately, gp120 proteins from different isolates of HIV are antigenically distinct, complicating the use of the envelope glycoprotein in vaccines designed to prevent acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. Using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent spot assay (ELISA), BALB/c mice immunized and boosted with recombinant purified gp120 were studied at the single cell level for their humoral immune response to HIV-1 envelope proteins. Approximately 90% of responding B cells produced antibodies reactive with the immunizing form of gp120 but not with gp120s from other strains of HIV. A novel sandwich ELISA was then used to analyze the frequency with which individual in vivo activated B cells produced antibodies that crossreacted with heterologous gp120s. Repeated immunizations with a single gp120 or with a mixture of different gp120s resulted in the activation of primarily mono-specific (noncrossreactive) B cells. In contrast, the sequential immunization of mice with recombinant purified envelope proteins from different strains of HIV (IIIB, SF2, and Zr6) induced the selective expansion of B cells producing highly crossreactive antibodies.

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