Publications by authors named "Zhiqiang An"

136 Publications

The N501Y spike substitution enhances SARS-CoV-2 infection and transmission.

Nature 2021 Nov 24. Epub 2021 Nov 24.

Institute for Human Infections and Immunity, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX, USA.

Beginning in the summer of 2020, a variant of SARS-CoV-2, the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic, emerged in the United Kingdom. This B.1.1.7 variant, also known as Alpha, increased rapidly in prevalence, attributed to an increase in infection and/or transmission efficiency. The Alpha variant has 19 nonsynonymous mutations across its viral genome, including 8 substitutions or deletions in the spike protein, which interacts with cellular receptors to mediate infection and tropism. Here, using a reverse genetics approach, we show that, of the 8 individual spike protein substitutions, only N501Y exhibited consistent fitness gains for replication in the upper airway in the hamster model as well as primary human airway epithelial cells. The N501Y substitution recapitulated the phenotype of enhanced viral transmission seen with the combined 8 Alpha spike mutations, suggesting it is a major determinant of increased transmission of this variant. Mechanistically, the N501Y substitution improved the affinity of the viral spike protein for cellular receptors. As suggested by its convergent evolution in Brazil, South Africa, and elsewhere, our results indicate that N501Y substitution is a major adaptive spike mutation of major concern.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-04245-0DOI Listing
November 2021

Tumour DDR1 promotes collagen fibre alignment to instigate immune exclusion.

Nature 2021 Nov 3;599(7886):673-678. Epub 2021 Nov 3.

Texas Therapeutics Institute, Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Houston, TX, USA.

Immune exclusion predicts poor patient outcomes in multiple malignancies, including triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). The extracellular matrix (ECM) contributes to immune exclusion. However, strategies to reduce ECM abundance are largely ineffective or generate undesired outcomes. Here we show that discoidin domain receptor 1 (DDR1), a collagen receptor with tyrosine kinase activity, instigates immune exclusion by promoting collagen fibre alignment. Ablation of Ddr1 in tumours promotes the intratumoral penetration of T cells and obliterates tumour growth in mouse models of TNBC. Supporting this finding, in human TNBC the expression of DDR1 negatively correlates with the intratumoral abundance of anti-tumour T cells. The DDR1 extracellular domain (DDR1-ECD), but not its intracellular kinase domain, is required for immune exclusion. Membrane-untethered DDR1-ECD is sufficient to rescue the growth of Ddr1-knockout tumours in immunocompetent hosts. Mechanistically, the binding of DDR1-ECD to collagen enforces aligned collagen fibres and obstructs immune infiltration. ECD-neutralizing antibodies disrupt collagen fibre alignment, mitigate immune exclusion and inhibit tumour growth in immunocompetent hosts. Together, our findings identify a mechanism for immune exclusion and suggest an immunotherapeutic target for increasing immune accessibility through reconfiguration of the tumour ECM.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-04057-2DOI Listing
November 2021

Delta spike P681R mutation enhances SARS-CoV-2 fitness over Alpha variant.

bioRxiv 2021 Sep 5. Epub 2021 Sep 5.

SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant has rapidly replaced the Alpha variant around the world. The mechanism that drives this global replacement has not been defined. Here we report that Delta spike mutation P681R plays a key role in the Alpha-to-Delta variant replacement. In a replication competition assay, Delta SARS-CoV-2 efficiently outcompeted the Alpha variant in human lung epithelial cells and primary human airway tissues. Delta SARS-CoV-2 bearing the Alpha-spike glycoprotein replicated less efficiently than the wild-type Delta variant, suggesting the importance of Delta spike in enhancing viral replication. The Delta spike has accumulated mutation P681R located at a furin cleavage site that separates the spike 1 (S1) and S2 subunits. Reverting the P681R mutation to wild-type P681 significantly reduced the replication of Delta variant, to a level lower than the Alpha variant. Mechanistically, the Delta P681R mutation enhanced the cleavage of the full-length spike to S1 and S2, leading to increased infection via cell surface entry. In contrast, the Alpha spike also has a mutation at the same amino acid (P681H), but the spike cleavage from purified Alpha virions was reduced compared to the Delta spike. Collectively, our results indicate P681R as a key mutation in enhancing Delta variant replication via increased S1/S2 cleavage. Spike mutations that potentially affect furin cleavage efficiency must be closely monitored for future variant surveillance.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/2021.08.12.456173DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8404900PMC
September 2021

Oncostatin M Receptor-Targeted Antibodies Suppress STAT3 Signaling and Inhibit Ovarian Cancer Growth.

Cancer Res 2021 Oct 11;81(20):5336-5352. Epub 2021 Aug 11.

Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Although patients with advanced ovarian cancer may respond initially to treatment, disease relapse is common, and nearly 50% of patients do not survive beyond five years, indicating an urgent need for improved therapies. To identify new therapeutic targets, we performed single-cell and nuclear RNA-seq data set analyses on 17 human ovarian cancer specimens, revealing the oncostatin M receptor (OSMR) as highly expressed in ovarian cancer cells. Conversely, oncostatin M (OSM), the ligand of OSMR, was highly expressed by tumor-associated macrophages and promoted proliferation and metastasis in cancer cells. Ovarian cancer cell lines and additional patient samples also exhibited elevated levels of OSMR when compared with other cell types in the tumor microenvironment or to normal ovarian tissue samples. OSMR was found to be important for ovarian cancer cell proliferation and migration. Binding of OSM to OSMR caused OSMR-IL6ST dimerization, which is required to produce oncogenic signaling cues for prolonged STAT3 activation. Human monoclonal antibody clones B14 and B21 directed to the extracellular domain of OSMR abrogated OSM-induced OSMR-IL6ST heterodimerization, promoted the internalization and degradation of OSMR, and effectively blocked OSMR-mediated signaling . Importantly, these antibody clones inhibited the growth of ovarian cancer cells and by suppressing oncogenic signaling through OSMR and STAT3 activation. Collectively, this study provides a proof of principle that anti-OSMR antibody can mediate disruption of OSM-induced OSMR-IL6ST dimerization and oncogenic signaling, thus documenting the preclinical therapeutic efficacy of human OSMR antagonist antibodies for immunotherapy in ovarian cancer. SIGNIFICANCE: This study uncovers a role for OSMR in promoting ovarian cancer cell proliferation and metastasis by activating STAT3 signaling and demonstrates the preclinical efficacy of antibody-based OSMR targeting for ovarian cancer treatment.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-21-0483DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8530981PMC
October 2021

Antibody-drug conjugates with dual payloads for combating breast tumor heterogeneity and drug resistance.

Nat Commun 2021 06 10;12(1):3528. Epub 2021 Jun 10.

Texas Therapeutics Institute, The Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Houston, TX, USA.

Breast tumors generally consist of a diverse population of cells with varying gene expression profiles. Breast tumor heterogeneity is a major factor contributing to drug resistance, recurrence, and metastasis after chemotherapy. Antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) are emerging chemotherapeutic agents with striking clinical success, including T-DM1 for HER2-positive breast cancer. However, these ADCs often suffer from issues associated with intratumor heterogeneity. Here, we show that homogeneous ADCs containing two distinct payloads are a promising drug class for addressing this clinical challenge. Our conjugates show HER2-specific cell killing potency, desirable pharmacokinetic profiles, minimal inflammatory response, and marginal toxicity at therapeutic doses. Notably, a dual-drug ADC exerts greater treatment effect and survival benefit than does co-administration of two single-drug variants in xenograft mouse models representing intratumor HER2 heterogeneity and elevated drug resistance. Our findings highlight the therapeutic potential of the dual-drug ADC format for treating refractory breast cancer and perhaps other cancers.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-23793-7DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8192907PMC
June 2021

Chitinase 3-like-1 contributes to acetaminophen-induced liver injury by promoting hepatic platelet recruitment.

Elife 2021 06 10;10. Epub 2021 Jun 10.

Department of Anesthesiology, UTHealth McGovern Medical School, Houston, United States.

Background: Hepatic platelet accumulation contributes to acetaminophen (APAP)-induced liver injury (AILI). However, little is known about the molecular pathways involved in platelet recruitment to the liver and whether targeting such pathways could attenuate AILI.

Methods: Mice were fasted overnight before intraperitoneally () injected with APAP at a dose of 210 mg/kg for male mice and 325 mg/kg for female mice. Platelets adherent to Kupffer cells were determined in both mice and patients overdosed with APAP. The impact of α-chitinase 3-like-1 (α-Chi3l1) on alleviation of AILI was determined in a therapeutic setting, and liver injury was analyzed.

Results: The present study unveiled a critical role of Chi3l1 in hepatic platelet recruitment during AILI. Increased Chi3l1 and platelets in the liver were observed in patients and mice overdosed with APAP. Compared to wild-type (WT) mice, mice developed attenuated AILI with markedly reduced hepatic platelet accumulation. Mechanistic studies revealed that Chi3l1 signaled through CD44 on macrophages to induce podoplanin expression, which mediated platelet recruitment through C-type lectin-like receptor 2. Moreover, APAP treatment of mice resulted in much lower numbers of hepatic platelets and liver injury than WT mice, a phenotype similar to that in mice. Recombinant Chi3l1 could restore hepatic platelet accumulation and AILI in mice, but not in mice. Importantly, we generated anti-Chi3l1 monoclonal antibodies and demonstrated that they could effectively inhibit hepatic platelet accumulation and AILI.

Conclusions: We uncovered the Chi3l1/CD44 axis as a critical pathway mediating APAP-induced hepatic platelet recruitment and tissue injury. We demonstrated the feasibility and potential of targeting Chi3l1 to treat AILI.

Funding: ZS received funding from NSFC (32071129). FWL received funding from NIH (GM123261). ALFSG received funding from NIDDK (DK 058369). ZA received funding from CPRIT (RP150551 and RP190561) and the Welch Foundation (AU-0042-20030616). CJ received funding from NIH (DK122708, DK109574, DK121330, and DK122796) and support from a University of Texas System Translational STARs award. Portions of this work were supported with resources and the use of facilities of the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center and funding from Department of Veterans Affairs I01 BX002551 (Equipment, Personnel, Supplies). The contents do not represent the views of the US Department of Veterans Affairs or the US Government.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.68571DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8233036PMC
June 2021

Nasal delivery of an IgM offers broad protection from SARS-CoV-2 variants.

Nature 2021 07 3;595(7869):718-723. Epub 2021 Jun 3.

Texas Therapeutics Institute, Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Houston, TX, USA.

Resistance represents a major challenge for antibody-based therapy for COVID-19. Here we engineered an immunoglobulin M (IgM) neutralizing antibody (IgM-14) to overcome the resistance encountered by immunoglobulin G (IgG)-based therapeutics. IgM-14 is over 230-fold more potent than its parental IgG-14 in neutralizing SARS-CoV-2. IgM-14 potently neutralizes the resistant virus raised by its corresponding IgG-14, three variants of concern-B.1.1.7 (Alpha, which first emerged in the UK), P.1 (Gamma, which first emerged in Brazil) and B.1.351 (Beta, which first emerged in South Africa)-and 21 other receptor-binding domain mutants, many of which are resistant to the IgG antibodies that have been authorized for emergency use. Although engineering IgG into IgM enhances antibody potency in general, selection of an optimal epitope is critical for identifying the most effective IgM that can overcome resistance. In mice, a single intranasal dose of IgM-14 at 0.044 mg per kg body weight confers prophylactic efficacy and a single dose at 0.4 mg per kg confers therapeutic efficacy against SARS-CoV-2. IgM-14, but not IgG-14, also confers potent therapeutic protection against the P.1 and B.1.351 variants. IgM-14 exhibits desirable pharmacokinetics and safety profiles when administered intranasally in rodents. Our results show that intranasal administration of an engineered IgM can improve efficacy, reduce resistance and simplify the prophylactic and therapeutic treatment of COVID-19.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03673-2DOI Listing
July 2021

A conditionally replication-defective cytomegalovirus vaccine elicits potent and diverse functional monoclonal antibodies in a phase I clinical trial.

NPJ Vaccines 2021 Jun 2;6(1):79. Epub 2021 Jun 2.

Texas Therapeutics Institute, Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Houston, TX, USA.

A conditionally replication-defective human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) vaccine, V160, was shown to be safe and immunogenic in a two-part, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled phase I clinical trial (NCT01986010). However, the specificities and functional properties of V160-elicited antibodies remain undefined. Here, we characterized 272 monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) isolated from single memory B cells of six V160-vaccinated subjects. The mAbs bind to diverse HCMV antigens, including multiple components of the pentamer, gB, and tegument proteins. The most-potent neutralizing antibodies target the pentamer-UL subunits. The binding sites of the antibodies overlap with those of antibodies responding to natural HCMV infection. The majority of the neutralizing antibodies target the gHgL subunit. The non-neutralizing antibodies predominantly target the gB and pp65 proteins. Sequence analysis indicated that V160 induced a class of gHgL antibodies expressing the HV1-18/KV1-5 germline genes in multiple subjects. This study provides valuable insights into primary targets for anti-HCMV antibodies induced by V160 vaccination.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41541-021-00342-3DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8172929PMC
June 2021

Leukocyte immunoglobulin-like receptor subfamily B: therapeutic targets in cancer.

Antib Ther 2021 Jan 9;4(1):16-33. Epub 2021 Feb 9.

Department of Physiology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX 75390, USA.

Inhibitory leukocyte immunoglobulin-like receptors (LILRBs 1-5) transduce signals via intracellular immunoreceptor tyrosine-based inhibitory motifs that recruit phosphatases to negatively regulate immune activation. The activation of LILRB signaling in immune cells may contribute to immune evasion. In addition, the expression and signaling of LILRBs in cancer cells especially in certain hematologic malignant cells directly support cancer development. Certain LILRBs thus have dual roles in cancer biology-as immune checkpoint molecules and tumor-supporting factors. Here, we review the expression, ligands, signaling, and functions of LILRBs, as well as therapeutic development targeting them. LILRBs may represent attractive targets for cancer treatment, and antagonizing LILRB signaling may prove to be effective anti-cancer strategies.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/abt/tbab002DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7944505PMC
January 2021

Human Endogenous Retroviruses in Glioblastoma Multiforme.

Microorganisms 2021 Apr 6;9(4). Epub 2021 Apr 6.

School of Biomedical Informatics, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Houston, TX 77030, USA.

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most aggressive and deadly brain tumor. It is primarily diagnosed in the elderly and has a 5-year survival rate of less than 6% even with the most aggressive therapies. The lack of biomarkers has made the development of immunotherapy for GBM challenging. Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) are a group of viruses with long terminal repeat (LTR) elements, which are believed to be relics from ancient viral infections. Recent studies have found that those repetitive elements play important roles in regulating various biological processes. The differentially expressed LTR elements from HERVs are potential biomarkers for immunotherapy to treat GBM. However, the understanding of the LTR element expression in GBM is greatly lacking.

Methods: We obtained 1077.4 GB of sequencing data from public databases. These data were generated from 111 GBM tissue studies, 30 GBM cell lines studies, and 45 normal brain tissues studies. We analyzed repetitive elements that were differentially expressed in GBM and normal brain samples.

Results: We found that 48 LTR elements were differentially expressed (-value < 0.05) between GBM and normal brain tissues, of which 46 were HERV elements. Among these 46 elements, 34 significantly changed HERVs belong to the ERV1 superfamily. Furthermore, 43 out of the 46 differentially expressed HERV elements were upregulated.

Conclusion: Our results indicate significant differential expression of many HERV LTR elements in GBM and normal brain tissues. Expression levels of these elements could be developed as biomarkers for GBM treatments.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/microorganisms9040764DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8067472PMC
April 2021

Asprosin-neutralizing antibodies as a treatment for metabolic syndrome.

Elife 2021 04 27;10. Epub 2021 Apr 27.

Harrington Discovery Institute, University Hospitals, Cleveland, United States.

Background: Recently, we discovered a new glucogenic and centrally acting orexigenic hormone - asprosin. Asprosin is elevated in metabolic syndrome (MS) patients, and its genetic loss results in reduced appetite, leanness, and blood glucose burden, leading to protection from MS.

Methods: We generated three independent monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) that recognize unique asprosin epitopes and investigated their preclinical efficacy and tolerability in the treatment of MS.

Results: Anti-asprosin mAbs from three distinct species lowered appetite and body weight, and reduced blood glucose in a dose-dependent and epitope-agnostic fashion in three independent MS mouse models, with an IC50 of ~1.5 mg/kg. The mAbs displayed a half-life of over 3days in vivo, with equilibrium dissociation-constants in picomolar to low nanomolar range.

Conclusions: We demonstrate that anti-asprosin mAbs are dual-effect pharmacologic therapy that targets two key pillars of MS - over-nutrition and hyperglycemia. This evidence paves the way for further development towards an investigational new drug application and subsequent human trials for treatment of MS, a defining physical ailment of our time.

Funding: DK118290 and DK125403 (R01; National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases), DK102529 (K08; National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases), Caroline Wiess Law Scholarship (Baylor College of Medicine, Harrington Investigatorship Harrington Discovery Institute at University Hospitals, Cleveland); Chao Physician Scientist Award (Baylor College of Medicine); RP150551 and RP190561 (Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas [CPRIT]).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.63784DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8102062PMC
April 2021

Presence of complete murine viral genome sequences in patient-derived xenografts.

Nat Commun 2021 04 1;12(1):2031. Epub 2021 Apr 1.

School of Biomedical Informatics, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Houston, TX, USA.

Patient-derived xenografts are crucial for drug development but their use is challenged by issues such as murine viral infection. We evaluate the scope of viral infection and its impact on patient-derived xenografts by taking an unbiased data-driven approach to analyze unmapped RNA-Seq reads from 184 experiments. We find and experimentally validate the extensive presence of murine viral sequence reads covering entire viral genomes in patient-derived xenografts. The existence of viral sequences inside tumor cells is further confirmed by single cell sequencing data. Extensive chimeric reads containing both viral and human sequences are also observed. Furthermore, we find significantly changed expression levels of many cancer-, immune-, and drug metabolism-related genes in samples with high virus load. Our analyses indicate a need to carefully evaluate the impact of viral infection on patient-derived xenografts for drug development. They also point to a need for attention to quality control of patient-derived xenograft experiments.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-22200-5DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8017013PMC
April 2021

The N501Y spike substitution enhances SARS-CoV-2 transmission.

bioRxiv 2021 Mar 9. Epub 2021 Mar 9.

Beginning in the summer of 2020, a variant of SARS-CoV-2, the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic, emerged in the United Kingdom (UK). This B.1.1.7 variant increased rapidly in prevalence among sequenced strains, attributed to an increase in infection and/or transmission efficiency. The UK variant has 19 nonsynonymous mutations across its viral genome including 8 substitutions or deletions in the spike protein, which interacts with cellular receptors to mediate infection and tropism. Here, using a reverse genetics approach, we show that, of the 8 individual spike protein substitutions, only N501Y exhibited consistent fitness gains for replication in the upper airway in the hamster model as well as primary human airway epithelial cells. The N501Y substitution recapitulated the phenotype of enhanced viral transmission seen with the combined 8 UK spike mutations, suggesting it is a major determinant responsible for increased transmission of this variant. Mechanistically, the N501Y substitution improved the affinity of the viral spike protein for cellular receptors. As suggested by its convergent evolution in Brazil and South Africa, our results indicate that N501Y substitution is a major adaptive spike mutation of major concern.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/2021.03.08.434499DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7986995PMC
March 2021

Inhibition of astrocyte hemichannel improves recovery from spinal cord injury.

JCI Insight 2021 03 8;6(5). Epub 2021 Mar 8.

Department of Biochemistry and Structural Biology, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas, USA.

Spinal cord injury (SCI) causes severe disability, and the current inability to restore function to the damaged spinal cord leads to lasting detrimental consequences to patients. One strategy to reduce SCI morbidity involves limiting the spread of secondary damage after injury. Previous studies have shown that connexin 43 (Cx43), a gap junction protein richly expressed in spinal cord astrocytes, is a potential mediator of secondary damage. Here, we developed a specific inhibitory antibody, mouse-human chimeric MHC1 antibody (MHC1), that inhibited Cx43 hemichannels, but not gap junctions, and reduced secondary damage in 2 incomplete SCI mouse models. MHC1 inhibited the activation of Cx43 hemichannels in both primary spinal astrocytes and astrocytes in situ. In both SCI mouse models, administration of MHC1 after SCI significantly improved hind limb locomotion function. Remarkably, a single administration of MHC1 30 minutes after injury improved the recovery up to 8 weeks post-SCI. Moreover, MHC1 treatment decreased gliosis and lesion sizes, increased white and gray matter sparing, and improved neuronal survival. Together, these results suggest that inhibition of Cx43 hemichannel function after traumatic SCI reduces secondary damage, limits perilesional gliosis, and improves functional recovery. By targeting hemichannels specifically with an antibody, this study provides a potentially new, innovative therapeutic approach in treating SCI.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1172/jci.insight.134611DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8021110PMC
March 2021

Serum levels of endotrophin are associated with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis.

Scand J Gastroenterol 2021 Apr 8;56(4):437-442. Epub 2021 Feb 8.

Department of Internal Medicine, Touchstone Diabetes Center, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX, USA.

Background And Aims: There are no currently available biomarkers that can accurately indicate the presence of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). We investigated the association between endotrophin, a cleavage product of collagen type 6α3, and disease severity in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Methods: We measured serum endotrophin levels in 211 patients with NAFLD and nine healthy controls. Liver biopsy data was available for 141 (67%) of the patients. Associations between endotrophin and the presence of NASH and advanced fibrosis were investigated alone and in combination with standard clinical parameters using logistic regression.

Results: A total of 211 patients were enrolled in this study, consisting of 108 (51%) men and 103 (49%) women with a mean age of 55.6 years. 58 (27%) of the patients had advanced fibrosis. Of those with biopsy data, 87 (62%) had NASH. Serum levels of endotrophin were significantly higher in patients with NAFLD than those in healthy controls (37[±12] vs. 17[±7] ng/mL, <.001). Serum levels of endotrophin were also significantly higher in patients with NASH than in those without NASH (40[±12] vs. 32[±13] ng/mL, <.001). A model using age, sex, body mass index and levels of alanine aminotransferase (ALT), glucose and endotrophin effectively predicted the presence of NASH in a derivation (AUROC 0.83, 95%CI = 0.74-0.92) and validation cohort (AUROC 0.71, 95%CI = 0.54-0.88). There was no significant association between serum levels of endotrophin and advanced fibrosis.

Conclusions: These data suggest that serum endotrophin could be a valuable biomarker for diagnosing NASH, but not for detecting advanced fibrosis in NAFLD.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00365521.2021.1879249DOI Listing
April 2021

Loss of furin cleavage site attenuates SARS-CoV-2 pathogenesis.

Nature 2021 03 25;591(7849):293-299. Epub 2021 Jan 25.

Department of Pathology and Immunology, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, MO, USA.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)-a new coronavirus that has led to a worldwide pandemic-has a furin cleavage site (PRRAR) in its spike protein that is absent in other group-2B coronaviruses. To explore whether the furin cleavage site contributes to infection and pathogenesis in this virus, we generated a mutant SARS-CoV-2 that lacks the furin cleavage site (ΔPRRA). Here we report that replicates of ΔPRRA SARS-CoV-2 had faster kinetics, improved fitness in Vero E6 cells and reduced spike protein processing, as compared to parental SARS-CoV-2. However, the ΔPRRA mutant had reduced replication in a human respiratory cell line and was attenuated in both hamster and K18-hACE2 transgenic mouse models of SARS-CoV-2 pathogenesis. Despite reduced disease, the ΔPRRA mutant conferred protection against rechallenge with the parental SARS-CoV-2. Importantly, the neutralization values of sera from patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and monoclonal antibodies against the receptor-binding domain of SARS-CoV-2 were lower against the ΔPRRA mutant than against parental SARS-CoV-2, probably owing to an increased ratio of particles to plaque-forming units in infections with the former. Together, our results demonstrate a critical role for the furin cleavage site in infection with SARS-CoV-2 and highlight the importance of this site for evaluating the neutralization activities of antibodies.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03237-4DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8175039PMC
March 2021

Chemical generation of small molecule-based bispecific antibody-drug conjugates for broadening the target scope.

Bioorg Med Chem 2021 02 9;32:116013. Epub 2021 Jan 9.

Texas Therapeutics Institute, The Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Houston, TX, USA. Electronic address:

Antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) hold great therapeutic promise for cancer indications; however, treating tumors with intratumor heterogeneity remains challenging. We hypothesized that ADCs that can simultaneously target two different cancer antigens could address this issue. Here, we report controlled production and evaluation of bispecific ADCs chemically functionalized with tumor-targeting small molecules. Enzyme-mediated conjugation of bi-functional branched linkers and following sequential orthogonal click reactions with payload and tumor targeting modules (folic acid or RGD peptide) afforded homogeneous bispecific ADCs with defined ligand/drug-to-antibody ratios ranging from 4 + 4 to 16 + 4 (ligand/payload). Most bispecific ADCs were stable under physiological conditions for 14 days. Functionalization with the cancer-specific ligands did not impair cathepsin B-mediated payload release from ADCs. Bispecific ADCs targeting the folate receptor (FR)/human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) demonstrated specific binding and high cell killing potency only in cells expressing either antigen (FR or HER2). Integrin/HER2 bispecific ADCs equipped with RGD peptides also showed target-specific binding and cytotoxicity in integrin- or HER2-positive cells. These findings suggest that our small-molecule based bispecific ADCs have the potential to effectively treat tumors with heterogeneous antigen expression.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bmc.2021.116013DOI Listing
February 2021

Molecular determinants and mechanism for antibody cocktail preventing SARS-CoV-2 escape.

Nat Commun 2021 01 20;12(1):469. Epub 2021 Jan 20.

Texas Therapeutics Institute, Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Houston, TX, 77030, USA.

Antibody cocktails represent a promising approach to prevent SARS-CoV-2 escape. The determinants for selecting antibody combinations and the mechanism that antibody cocktails prevent viral escape remain unclear. We compared the critical residues in the receptor-binding domain (RBD) used by multiple neutralizing antibodies and cocktails and identified a combination of two antibodies CoV2-06 and CoV2-14 for preventing viral escape. The two antibodies simultaneously bind to non-overlapping epitopes and independently compete for receptor binding. SARS-CoV-2 rapidly escapes from individual antibodies by generating resistant mutations in vitro, but it doesn't escape from the cocktail due to stronger mutational constraints on RBD-ACE2 interaction and RBD protein folding requirements. We also identified a conserved neutralizing epitope shared between SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV for antibody CoV2-12. Treatments with CoV2-06 and CoV2-14 individually and in combination confer protection in mice. These findings provide insights for rational selection and mechanistic understanding of antibody cocktails as candidates for treating COVID-19.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-20789-7DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7817669PMC
January 2021

Potent Bispecific Neutralizing Antibody Targeting Glycoprotein B and the gH/gL/pUL128/130/131 Complex of Human Cytomegalovirus.

Antimicrob Agents Chemother 2021 02 17;65(3). Epub 2021 Feb 17.

Texas Therapeutics Institute, Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Houston, Texas, USA.

Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is a ubiquitous pathogen that can cause developmental disorders following congenital infection and life-threatening complications among transplant patients. Potent neutralizing monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) are promising drug candidates against HCMV infection. HCMV can infect a broad range of cell types. Therefore, single neutralizing antibodies targeting one HCMV glycoprotein often lack either potency or broad cell-type coverage. We previously characterized two human-derived HCMV neutralizing MAbs. One was the broadly neutralizing MAb 3-25, which targets the antigenic domain 2 of glycoprotein B (gB). The other was the highly potent MAb 2-18, which specifically recognizes the gH/gL/pUL128/130/131 complex (pentamer). To combine the strengths of gB- and pentamer-targeting MAbs, we developed an IgG-single-chain variable fragment (scFv) bispecific antibody by fusing the 2-18 scFv to the heavy-chain C terminus of MAb 3-25. The resulting bispecific antibody showed high-affinity binding to both gB and pentamer. Functionally, the bispecific antibody demonstrated a combined neutralization breadth and potency of the parental MAbs in multiple cell lines and inhibited postinfection viral spreading. Furthermore, the bispecific antibody was easily produced in CHO cells at a yield above 1 g/liter and showed a single-dose pharmacokinetic profile comparable to that of parental MAb 3-25 in rhesus macaques. Importantly, the bispecific antibody retained broadly and potent neutralizing activity after 21 days in circulation. Taken together, our research provides a proof-of-concept study for developing bispecific neutralizing antibody therapies against HCMV infection.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1128/AAC.02422-20DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8092496PMC
February 2021

A monoclonal antibody with broad specificity for the ligands of insulin B:9-23 reactive T cells prevents spontaneous type 1 diabetes in mice.

MAbs 2020 Jan-Dec;12(1):1836714

Department of Medicine, Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism, Baylor College of Medicine , Houston, Texas, USA.

Activation of T cells specific for insulin B chain amino acids 9 to 23 (B:9-23) is essential for the initiation of type 1 diabetes (T1D) in non-obese diabetic mice. We previously reported that peptide/MHC complexes containing optimized B:9-23 mimotopes can activate most insulin-reactive pathogenic T cells. A monoclonal antibody (mAb287) targeting these complexes prevented disease in 30-50% of treated animals (compared to 10% of animals given an isotype control). The incomplete protection is likely due to the relatively low affinity of the antibody for its ligand and limited specificity. Here, we report an enhanced reagent, mAb757, with improved specificity, affinity, and efficacy in modulating T1D. Importantly, mAb757 bound with nanomolar affinity to agonists of both "type A" and "type B" cells and suppressed "type B" cells more efficiently than mAb287. When given weekly starting at 4 weeks of age, mAb757 protected ~70% of treated mice from developing T1D for at least 35 weeks, while mAb287 only delayed disease in 25% of animals under the same conditions. Consistent with its higher affinity, mAb757 was also able to stain antigen-presenting cells loaded with B:9-23 mimotopes . We conclude that monoclonal antibodies that can block the presentation of pathogenic T cell receptor epitopes are viable candidates for antigen-specific immunotherapy for T1D.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19420862.2020.1836714DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7668530PMC
September 2021

Antibody binding to native cytomegalovirus glycoprotein B predicts efficacy of the gB/MF59 vaccine in humans.

Sci Transl Med 2020 11;12(568)

Duke Human Vaccine Institute, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27705, USA.

Human cytomegalovirus (CMV) is the most common infectious cause of infant brain damage and posttransplant complications worldwide. Despite the high global burden of disease, vaccine development to prevent infection remains hampered by challenges in generating protective immunity. The most efficacious CMV vaccine candidate tested to date is a soluble glycoprotein B (gB) subunit vaccine with MF59 adjuvant (gB/MF59), which achieved 50% protection in multiple historical phase 2 clinical trials. The vaccine-elicited immune responses that conferred this protection have remained unclear. We investigated the humoral immune correlates of protection from CMV acquisition in populations of CMV-seronegative adolescent and postpartum women who received the gB/MF59 vaccine. We found that gB/MF59 immunization elicited distinct CMV-specific immunoglobulin G (IgG)-binding profiles and IgG-mediated functional responses in adolescent and postpartum vaccinees, with heterologous CMV strain neutralization observed primarily in adolescent vaccinees. Using penalized multiple logistic regression analysis, we determined that protection against primary CMV infection in both cohorts was associated with serum IgG binding to gB present on a cell surface but not binding to the soluble vaccine antigen, suggesting that IgG binding to cell-associated gB is an immune correlate of vaccine efficacy. Supporting this, we identified gB-specific monoclonal antibodies that differentially recognized soluble or cell-associated gB, revealing that there are structural differences in cell-associated and soluble gB are relevant to the generation of protective immunity. Our results highlight the importance of the native, cell-associated gB conformation in future CMV vaccine design.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/scitranslmed.abb3611DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8058742PMC
November 2020

Spike mutation D614G alters SARS-CoV-2 fitness.

Nature 2021 04 26;592(7852):116-121. Epub 2020 Oct 26.

Institute for Human Infections and Immunity, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX, USA.

The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) spike protein substitution D614G became dominant during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. However, the effect of this variant on viral spread and vaccine efficacy remains to be defined. Here we engineered the spike D614G substitution in the USA-WA1/2020 SARS-CoV-2 strain, and found that it enhances viral replication in human lung epithelial cells and primary human airway tissues by increasing the infectivity and stability of virions. Hamsters infected with SARS-CoV-2 expressing spike(D614G) (G614 virus) produced higher infectious titres in nasal washes and the trachea, but not in the lungs, supporting clinical evidence showing that the mutation enhances viral loads in the upper respiratory tract of COVID-19 patients and may increase transmission. Sera from hamsters infected with D614 virus exhibit modestly higher neutralization titres against G614 virus than against D614 virus, suggesting that the mutation is unlikely to reduce the ability of vaccines in clinical trials to protect against COVID-19, and that therapeutic antibodies should be tested against the circulating G614 virus. Together with clinical findings, our work underscores the importance of this variant in viral spread and its implications for vaccine efficacy and antibody therapy.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2895-3DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8158177PMC
April 2021

Spike mutation D614G alters SARS-CoV-2 fitness and neutralization susceptibility.

Res Sq 2020 Sep 10. Epub 2020 Sep 10.

The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

A spike protein mutation D614G became dominant in SARS-CoV-2 during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the mutational impact on viral spread and vaccine efficacy remains to be defined. Here we engineer the D614G mutation in the SARS-CoV-2 USA-WA1/2020 strain and characterize its effect on viral replication, pathogenesis, and antibody neutralization. The D614G mutation significantly enhances SARS-CoV-2 replication on human lung epithelial cells and primary human airway tissues, through an improved infectivity of virions with the spike receptor-binding domain in an "up" conformation for binding to ACE2 receptor. Hamsters infected with D614 or G614 variants developed similar levels of weight loss. However, the G614 virus produced higher infectious titers in the nasal washes and trachea, but not lungs, than the D614 virus. The hamster results confirm clinical evidence that the D614G mutation enhances viral loads in the upper respiratory tract of COVID-19 patients and may increases transmission. For antibody neutralization, sera from D614 virus-infected hamsters consistently exhibit higher neutralization titers against G614 virus than those against D614 virus, indicating that (i) the mutation may not reduce the ability of vaccines in clinical trials to protect against COVID-19 and (ii) therapeutic antibodies should be tested against the circulating G614 virus before clinical development.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.21203/rs.3.rs-70482/v1DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7491579PMC
September 2020

Leukocyte immunoglobulin-like receptor B1 and B4 (LILRB1 and LILRB4): Highly sensitive and specific markers of acute myeloid leukemia with monocytic differentiation.

Cytometry B Clin Cytom 2021 07 12;100(4):476-487. Epub 2020 Sep 12.

Department of Pathology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas, USA.

Background: Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) with monocytic differentiation (M-AML) remains a diagnostic challenge largely due to lack of sensitive and specific markers for immature monocytes. The immunoglobulin-like inhibitory receptors, LILRB1 and LILRB4, are expressed on monocytes but have not yet been systematically evaluated in the clinical setting.

Methods: We evaluated the diagnostic performance of LILRB1 and LILRB4 as monocytic markers for both immature and mature monocytes in comparison to other myelomonocytic markers including CD14, CD15, CD33, CD36, and CD64 in eight cases of control bone marrow (BM, 5) and peripheral blood (PB, 3), 64 cases of (M-AML), and 57 cases of AML without monocytic differentiation (NM-AML) by flow cytometric immunophenotyping.

Results: In control BM, LILRB1 and LILRB4 were consistently expressed on monocytes at all stages of maturation, from CD34 /CD14 monocytic precursors to CD14 maturing and CD14 mature monocytes. In M-AML, LILRB1 and LILRB4 were consistently expressed on monocytes, regardless of the degree of maturity, from CD14 monoblasts/promonocytes to CD14 mature monocytes but were not expressed on myeloblasts. The diagnostic performances as a monocytic marker assessed by sensitivity/specificity were 100%/100% for LILRB1/LILRB4, 100%/82% for CD11b, 80%/100% for CD14, 100%/81% for CD64, 100%/58% for CD15/CD33, and 89%/97% for CD36/CD64.

Conclusion: The co-expression of LILRB1/LILRB4 outperformed other myelomonocytic markers as a highly sensitive and specific marker for monocytes at all stages of maturation and could reliably distinguish M-AML from NM-AML. LILRB4 additionally represents a novel therapeutic target for treating M-AML.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/cyto.b.21952DOI Listing
July 2021

Spike mutation D614G alters SARS-CoV-2 fitness and neutralization susceptibility.

bioRxiv 2020 Sep 2. Epub 2020 Sep 2.

Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston TX, USA.

A spike protein mutation D614G became dominant in SARS-CoV-2 during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the mutational impact on viral spread and vaccine efficacy remains to be defined. Here we engineer the D614G mutation in the SARS-CoV-2 USA-WA1/2020 strain and characterize its effect on viral replication, pathogenesis, and antibody neutralization. The D614G mutation significantly enhances SARS-CoV-2 replication on human lung epithelial cells and primary human airway tissues, through an improved infectivity of virions with the spike receptor-binding domain in an "up" conformation for binding to ACE2 receptor. Hamsters infected with D614 or G614 variants developed similar levels of weight loss. However, the G614 virus produced higher infectious titers in the nasal washes and trachea, but not lungs, than the D614 virus. The hamster results confirm clinical evidence that the D614G mutation enhances viral loads in the upper respiratory tract of COVID-19 patients and may increases transmission. For antibody neutralization, sera from D614 virus-infected hamsters consistently exhibit higher neutralization titers against G614 virus than those against D614 virus, indicating that (i) the mutation may not reduce the ability of vaccines in clinical trials to protect against COVID-19 and (ii) therapeutic antibodies should be tested against the circulating G614 virus before clinical development.

Importance: Understanding the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 during the COVID-19 pandemic is essential for disease control and prevention. A spike protein mutation D614G emerged and became dominant soon after the pandemic started. By engineering the D614G mutation into an authentic wild-type SARS-CoV-2 strain, we demonstrate the importance of this mutation to (i) enhanced viral replication on human lung epithelial cells and primary human airway tissues, (ii) improved viral fitness in the upper airway of infected hamsters, and (iii) increased susceptibility to neutralization. Together with clinical findings, our work underscores the importance of this mutation in viral spread, vaccine efficacy, and antibody therapy.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/2020.09.01.278689DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7480025PMC
September 2020

LILRB4-targeting Antibody-Drug Conjugates for the Treatment of Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

Mol Cancer Ther 2020 11 2;19(11):2330-2339. Epub 2020 Sep 2.

Texas Therapeutics Institute, The Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Houston, Texas.

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is the most common and aggressive blood cancer in adults. In particular, significant unmet medical needs exist for effective treatment strategies for acute myelomonocytic leukemia (M4) and acute monocytic leukemia (M5) AML subtypes. Antibody-drug conjugates (ADC) are a promising drug class for AML therapy, as demonstrated by the FDA-approved anti-CD33 ADC, gemtuzumab ozogamicin (Mylotarg). However, CD33 is expressed in normal hematopoietic stem cells, highlighting the critical need to identify AML-specific targets to minimize the risk of potential adverse effects. We have demonstrated that the leukocyte immunoglobulin-like receptor subfamily B4 (LILRB4) is expressed at significantly higher levels on monocytic M4 and M5 AML cells than on normal counterparts. Here, we test whether LILRB4 is a promising ADC target to kill monocytic AML cells while sparing healthy counterparts. To this end, we generated ADCs from a humanized anti-LILRB4 mAb and the antimitotic payload, monomethyl auristatin F. The conjugates constructed were characterized and evaluated for LILRB4-specific cell killing potency, toxicity to progenitor cells, pharmacokinetics, and therapeutic efficacy. Our ADC linker technology platform efficiently generated homogeneous anti-LILRB4 ADCs with defined drug-to-antibody ratios. The homogeneous anti-LILRB4 ADCs demonstrated the capacity for LILRB4-mediated internalization, suitable physicochemical properties, and high cell killing potency against LILRB4-positive AML cells. Importantly, our data indicate that these ADCs spare normal progenitor cells. One of our homogeneous conjugates exerted a remarkable therapeutic effect and no significant toxicity in a xenograft mouse model of disseminated human AML. Our findings highlight the clinical potential of anti-LILRB4 ADCs in monocytic AML therapy.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1158/1535-7163.MCT-20-0407DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7921214PMC
November 2020

Furin Cleavage Site Is Key to SARS-CoV-2 Pathogenesis.

bioRxiv 2020 Aug 26. Epub 2020 Aug 26.

SARS-CoV-2 has resulted in a global pandemic and shutdown economies around the world. Sequence analysis indicates that the novel coronavirus (CoV) has an insertion of a furin cleavage site (PRRAR) in its spike protein. Absent in other group 2B CoVs, the insertion may be a key factor in the replication and virulence of SARS-CoV-2. To explore this question, we generated a SARS-CoV-2 mutant lacking the furin cleavage site (ΔPRRA) in the spike protein. This mutant virus replicated with faster kinetics and improved fitness in Vero E6 cells. The mutant virus also had reduced spike protein processing as compared to wild-type SARS-CoV-2. In contrast, the ΔPRRA had reduced replication in Calu3 cells, a human respiratory cell line, and had attenuated disease in a hamster pathogenesis model. Despite the reduced disease, the ΔPRRA mutant offered robust protection from SARS-CoV-2 rechallenge. Importantly, plaque reduction neutralization tests (PRNT ) with COVID-19 patient sera and monoclonal antibodies against the receptor-binding domain found a shift, with the mutant virus resulting in consistently reduced PRNT titers. Together, these results demonstrate a critical role for the furin cleavage site insertion in SARS-CoV-2 replication and pathogenesis. In addition, these findings illustrate the importance of this insertion in evaluating neutralization and other downstream SARS-CoV-2 assays.

Importance: As COVID-19 has impacted the world, understanding how SARS-CoV-2 replicates and causes virulence offers potential pathways to disrupt its disease. By removing the furin cleavage site, we demonstrate the importance of this insertion to SARS-CoV-2 replication and pathogenesis. In addition, the findings with Vero cells indicate the likelihood of cell culture adaptations in virus stocks that can influence reagent generation and interpretation of a wide range of data including neutralization and drug efficacy. Overall, our work highlights the importance of this key motif in SARS-CoV-2 infection and pathogenesis.

Article Summary: A deletion of the furin cleavage site in SARS-CoV-2 amplifies replication in Vero cells, but attenuates replication in respiratory cells and pathogenesis in vivo. Loss of the furin site also reduces susceptibility to neutralization .
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/2020.08.26.268854DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7457603PMC
August 2020

Specificity and effector functions of non-neutralizing gB-specific monoclonal antibodies isolated from healthy individuals with human cytomegalovirus infection.

Virology 2020 09 22;548:182-191. Epub 2020 Jul 22.

Duke Human Vaccine Institute, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC, USA. Electronic address:

Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is the most common congenital infection. A glycoprotein B (gB) subunit vaccine (gB/MF59) is the most efficacious clinically tested to date, having achieved 50% protection against primary infection of HCMV-seronegative women. We previously identified that gB/MF59 vaccination primarily elicits non-neutralizing antibody responses, with variable binding to gB genotypes, and protection associated with binding to membrane-associated gB. We hypothesized that gB-specific non-neutralizing antibody binding breadth and function are dependent on epitope and genotype specificity, and ability to interact with membrane-associated gB. We mapped twenty-four gB-specific monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) from naturally HCMV-infected individuals for gB domain specificity, genotype preference, and ability to mediate phagocytosis or NK cell activation. gB-specific mAbs were primarily specific for Domain II and demonstrated variable binding to gB genotypes. Two mAbs facilitated phagocytosis with binding specificities of Domain II and AD2. This investigation provides novel understanding on the relationship between gB domain specificity and antigenic variability on gB-specific antibody effector functions.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.virol.2020.07.009DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7447913PMC
September 2020
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