Antibody-induced internalization of the human respiratory syncytial virus fusion protein

Alexander Leemans, M De Schryver, W Van der Gucht, A Heykers, I Pintelon, A L Hotard, M.L. Moore, J A Melero, J S McLellan, Barney Graham, L Broadbent, U F Power, G Caljon, P Cos, L Maes, P Delputte

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Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections remain a major cause of respiratory disease and hospitalizations among infants. Infection recurs frequently and establishes a weak and short-lived immunity. To date, RSV immunoprophylaxis and vaccine research is mainly focused on the RSV fusion (F) protein, but a vaccine remains elusive. The RSV F protein is a highly conserved surface glycoprotein and the main target of neutralizing antibodies induced by natural infection. Here, we analyzed an internalization process of antigen-antibody complexes after binding of RSV-specific antibodies to RSV antigens expressed on the surface of infected cells. The RSV F protein and attachment (G) protein were found to be internalized in both infected and transfected cells after the addition of either RSV-specific polyclonal antibodies (pAbs) or RSV glycoprotein-specific monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), as determined by indirect immunofluorescence staining and flow-cytometric analysis. Internalization experiments with different cell lines, well-differentiated primary bronchial epithelial cells (WD-PBECs) and RSV isolates suggest that antibody-internalization can be considered as a general feature of RSV. More specifically for RSV F, the mechanism of internalization was shown to be clathrin-dependent. All RSV F-targeted mAbs tested, regardless of their epitopes, induced internalization of RSV F. No differences could be observed between the different mAbs, indicating that RSV F internalization was epitope-independent. Since this process can be either antiviral, by affecting virus assembly and production, or beneficial for the virus, by limiting the efficacy of antibodies and effector mechanism, further research is required to determine the extent to which this occurs in vivo and how this might impact RSV replication.IMPORTANCE Current research into the development of new immunoprophylaxis and vaccines is mainly focused on the RSV F protein since, among others, RSV F-specific antibodies are able to protect infants from severe disease, if administered prophylactically. However, antibody responses established after natural RSV infections are poorly protective against reinfection and high levels of antibodies do not always correlate with protection. Therefore, RSV might be capable of interfering, at least partially, with antibody-induced neutralization. In this study, a process through which surface-expressed RSV F proteins are internalized after interaction with RSV-specific antibodies is described. One the one hand, this antigen-antibody complex internalization could result in an antiviral effect, since it may interfere with virus particle formation and virus production. On the other hand, this mechanism may also reduce the efficacy of antibody-mediated effector mechanisms towards infected cells.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Virology
Early online date03 May 2017
Publication statusEarly online date - 03 May 2017


  • Journal Article


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