Although it is recognized that human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) genes exhibit a high degree of variability, little is known about the molecular heterogeneity of gp120-specific antibodies in infected individuals. As a first step to approach this issue, we investigated the idiotypic relatedness of anti-gp120 antibodies present in the serum of HIV-infected individuals. Idiotypic determinants (idiotopes) are fingerprints of the variable region of the antibody molecule and, as such, they represent unique probes with which to explore the diversity of the immune response. We isolated IgG anti-gp120 antibodies from the serum of a seropositive asymptomatic individual by affinity chromatography. The purified antibodies were shown to bind gp120 and gp160 by ELISA, Western blotting and radio-immunoprecipitation. They also recognized HIV-infected human T cells as detected by immunofluorescence. Anti-idiotypic reagents were generated against this gp120 idiotype, and one of them was used to study anti-gp120 idiotypic diversity in a panel of 65 sera drawn from AIDS and AIDS-related complex patients, and from HIV seropositive asymptomatic individuals. Sixty normal human sera were used as negative controls. We found no evidence for common idiotopes on anti-gp120 antibodies of unrelated individuals. In contrast, we also noticed that the idiotypic profile expressed sequentially at two different intervals in a persistently infected individual showed little variation. Finally, when the diversity of murine anti-gp120 antibodies with a monoclonal anti-idiotype was analysed, no evidence of cross-reactive idiotopes in the murine system was found.


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