All Publications

  • Inverse folding of protein complexes with a structure-informed language model enables unsupervised antibody evolution. bioRxiv : the preprint server for biology Shanker, V. R., Bruun, T. U., Hie, B. L., Kim, P. S. 2023


    Large language models trained on sequence information alone are capable of learning high level principles of protein design. However, beyond sequence, the three-dimensional structures of proteins determine their specific function, activity, and evolvability. Here we show that a general protein language model augmented with protein structure backbone coordinates and trained on the inverse folding problem can guide evolution for diverse proteins without needing to explicitly model individual functional tasks. We demonstrate inverse folding to be an effective unsupervised, structure-based sequence optimization strategy that also generalizes to multimeric complexes by implicitly learning features of binding and amino acid epistasis. Using this approach, we screened ~30 variants of two therapeutic clinical antibodies used to treat SARS-CoV-2 infection and achieved up to 26-fold improvement in neutralization and 37-fold improvement in affinity against antibody-escaped viral variants-of-concern BQ.1.1 and XBB.1.5, respectively. In addition to substantial overall improvements in protein function, we find inverse folding performs with leading experimental success rates among other reported machine learning-guided directed evolution methods, without requiring any task-specific training data.

    View details for DOI 10.1101/2023.12.19.572475

    View details for PubMedID 38187780

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC10769282

  • A structural blueprint for interleukin-21 signal modulation. Cell reports Abhiraman, G. C., Bruun, T. U., Caveney, N. A., Su, L. L., Saxton, R. A., Yin, Q., Tang, S., Davis, M. M., Jude, K. M., Garcia, K. C. 2023; 42 (6): 112657


    Interleukin-21 (IL-21) plays a critical role in generating immunological memory by promoting the germinal center reaction, yet clinical use of IL-21 remains challenging because of its pleiotropy and association with autoimmune disease. To better understand the structural basis of IL-21 signaling, we determine the structure of the IL-21-IL-21R-γc ternary signaling complex by X-ray crystallography and a structure of a dimer of trimeric complexes using cryo-electron microscopy. Guided by the structure, we design analogs of IL-21 by introducing substitutions to the IL-21-γc interface. These IL-21 analogs act as partial agonists that modulate downstream activation of pS6, pSTAT3, and pSTAT1. These analogs exhibit differential activity on T and B cell subsets and modulate antibody production in human tonsil organoids. These results clarify the structural basis of IL-21 signaling and offer a potential strategy for tunable manipulation of humoral immunity.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.celrep.2023.112657

    View details for PubMedID 37339051

  • Broad and Durable Humoral Responses Following Single Hydrogel Immunization of SARS-CoV-2 Subunit Vaccine. Advanced healthcare materials Ou, B. S., Saouaf, O. M., Yan, J., Bruun, T. U., Baillet, J., Zhou, X., King, N. P., Appel, E. A. 2023: e2301495


    Most vaccines require several immunizations to induce robust immunity, and indeed, most SARS-CoV-2 vaccines require an initial two-shot regimen followed by several boosters to maintain efficacy. Such a complex series of immunizations unfortunately increases the cost and complexity of populations-scale vaccination and reduces overall compliance and vaccination rate. In a rapidly evolving pandemic affected by the spread of immune-escaping variants, there is an urgent need to develop vaccines capable of providing robust and durable immunity. In this work, we developed a single immunization SARS-CoV-2 subunit vaccine that could rapidly generate potent, broad, and durable humoral immunity. We leveraged injectable polymer-nanoparticle (PNP) hydrogels as a depot technology for the sustained delivery of a nanoparticle COVID antigen displaying multiple copies of the SARS-CoV-2 receptor-binding-domain (RBD-NP), and potent adjuvants including CpG and 3M-052. Compared to a clinically relevant prime-boost regimen with soluble vaccines formulated with CpG/Alum or 3M-052/Alum adjuvants, PNP hydrogel vaccines more rapidly generated higher, broader, and more durable antibody responses. Additionally, these single-immunization hydrogel-based vaccines elicited potent and consistent neutralizing responses. Overall, we show that PNP hydrogels elicit improved anti-COVID immune responses with only a single administration, demonstrating their potential as critical technologies to enhance our overall pandemic readiness. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

    View details for DOI 10.1002/adhm.202301495

    View details for PubMedID 37278391

  • Efficient evolution of human antibodies from general protein language models. Nature biotechnology Hie, B. L., Shanker, V. R., Xu, D., Bruun, T. U., Weidenbacher, P. A., Tang, S., Wu, W., Pak, J. E., Kim, P. S. 2023


    Natural evolution must explore a vast landscape of possible sequences for desirable yet rare mutations, suggesting that learning from natural evolutionary strategies could guide artificial evolution. Here we report that general protein language models can efficiently evolve human antibodies by suggesting mutations that are evolutionarily plausible, despite providing the model with no information about the target antigen, binding specificity or protein structure. We performed language-model-guided affinity maturation of seven antibodies, screening 20 or fewer variants of each antibody across only two rounds of laboratory evolution, and improved the binding affinities of four clinically relevant, highly mature antibodies up to sevenfold and three unmatured antibodies up to 160-fold, with many designs also demonstrating favorable thermostability and viral neutralization activity against Ebola and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pseudoviruses. The same models that improve antibody binding also guide efficient evolution across diverse protein families and selection pressures, including antibiotic resistance and enzyme activity, suggesting that these results generalize to many settings.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41587-023-01763-2

    View details for PubMedID 37095349

    View details for PubMedCentralID 4410700

  • Structure-guided stabilization improves the ability of the HIV-1 gp41 hydrophobic pocket to elicit neutralizing antibodies. The Journal of biological chemistry Bruun, T. J., Tang, S., Erwin, G., Deis, L., Fernandez, D., Kim, P. 2023: 103062


    The hydrophobic pocket found in the N-heptad repeat (NHR) region of HIV-1 gp41 is a highly conserved epitope that is the target of various HIV-1 neutralizing monoclonal antibodies. Although the high conservation of the pocket makes it an attractive vaccine candidate, it has been challenging to elicit potent anti-NHR antibodies via immunization. Here, we solved a high-resolution structure of the NHR mimetic IQN17, and, consistent with previous ligand-bound gp41 pocket structures, we observed remarkable conformational plasticity of the pocket. The high malleability of this pocket led us to test whether we could improve the immunogenicity of the gp41 pocket by stabilizing its conformation. We show that the addition of five amino acids at the C-terminus of IQN17, to generate IQN22, introduces a stabilizing salt bridge at the base of the peptide that rigidifies the pocket. Mice immunized with IQN22 elicited higher avidity antibodies against the gp41 pocket and a more potent, albeit still weak, neutralizing response against HIV-1 compared to IQN17. Stabilized epitope-focused immunogens could serve as the basis for future HIV-1 fusion-inhibiting vaccines.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.jbc.2023.103062

    View details for PubMedID 36841484

  • HIV-1 prehairpin intermediate inhibitors show efficacy independent of neutralization tier. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America Bell, B. N., Bruun, T. U., Friedland, N., Kim, P. S. 2023; 120 (8): e2215792120


    HIV-1 strains are categorized into one of three neutralization tiers based on the relative ease by which they are neutralized by plasma from HIV-1-infected donors not on antiretroviral therapy; tier-1 strains are particularly sensitive to neutralization while tier-2 and tier-3 strains are increasingly difficult to neutralize. Most broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs) previously described target the native prefusion conformation of HIV-1 Envelope (Env), but the relevance of the tiered categories for inhibitors targeting another Env conformation, the prehairpin intermediate, is not well understood. Here, we show that two inhibitors targeting distinct highly conserved regions of the prehairpin intermediate have strikingly consistent neutralization potencies (within ~100-fold for a given inhibitor) against strains in all three neutralization tiers of HIV-1; in contrast, best-in-class bnAbs targeting diverse Env epitopes vary by more than 10,000-fold in potency against these strains. Our results indicate that antisera-based HIV-1 neutralization tiers are not relevant for inhibitors targeting the prehairpin intermediate and highlight the potential for therapies and vaccine efforts targeting this conformation.

    View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.2215792120

    View details for PubMedID 36795752

  • A derivative of the D5 monoclonal antibody that targets the gp41 N-heptad repeat of HIV-1 with broad tier-2 neutralizing activity. Journal of virology Rubio, A. A., Filsinger Interrante, M. V., Bell, B. N., Brown, C. L., Bruun, T. U., LaBranche, C. C., Montefiori, D. C., Kim, P. S. 2021


    HIV-1 infection is initiated by the viral glycoprotein Env, which, after interaction with cellular coreceptors, adopts a transient conformation known as the pre-hairpin intermediate (PHI). The N-heptad repeat (NHR) is a highly conserved region of gp41 exposed in the PHI; it is the target of the FDA-approved drug enfuvirtide and of neutralizing monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). However, to date these mAbs have only been weakly effective against tier-1 HIV-1 strains, which are most sensitive to neutralizing antibodies. Here, we engineered and tested 11 IgG variants of D5, an anti-NHR mAb, by recombining previously described mutations in four of D5's six antibody complementarity-determining regions. One variant, D5_AR, demonstrated 6-fold enhancement in ID50 against lentivirus pseudotyped with HXB2 Env. D5_AR exhibited weak cross-clade neutralizing activity against a diverse set of tier-2 HIV-1 viruses, which are less sensitive to neutralizing antibodies than tier-1 viruses and are the target of current antibody-based vaccine efforts. In addition, the neutralization potency of D5_AR IgG was greatly enhanced in target cells expressing FcgammaRI, with ID50 values below 0.1 mug/mL; this immunoglobulin receptor is expressed on macrophages and dendritic cells, which are implicated in the early stages of HIV-1 infection of mucosal surfaces. D5 and D5_AR have equivalent neutralization potency in IgG, Fab, and scFv formats, indicating that neutralization is not impacted by steric hindrance. Taken together, these results provide support for vaccine strategies that target the PHI by eliciting antibodies against the gp41 NHR and support investigation of anti-NHR mAbs in non-human primate passive immunization studies.ImportanceDespite advances in anti-retroviral therapy, HIV remains a global epidemic and has claimed more than 32 million lives. Accordingly, developing an effective HIV vaccine remains an urgent public health need. The gp41 N-heptad repeat (NHR) of the HIV-1 pre-hairpin intermediate (PHI) is highly conserved (>90%) and is inhibited by the FDA-approved drug enfuvirtide, making it an attractive vaccine target. However, to date anti-NHR antibodies have not been potent. Here, we engineered D5_AR, a more potent variant of the anti-NHR antibody D5, and established its ability to inhibit HIV-1 strains that are more difficult to neutralize and are more representative of circulating strains (tier-2 strains). The neutralizing activity of D5_AR was greatly potentiated in cells expressing FcgammaRI; FcgammaRI is expressed on cells that are implicated at the earliest stages of sexual HIV-1 transmission. Taken together, these results bolster efforts to target the gp41 NHR and the PHI for vaccine development.

    View details for DOI 10.1128/JVI.02350-20

    View details for PubMedID 33980592