The mosquito-borne Zika virus (ZIKV) has been causing epidemic outbreaks on a global scale. Virus infection can result in severe disease in humans, including microcephaly in newborns and Guillain-Barré syndrome in adults. Here, we characterized monoclonal antibodies isolated from a patient with an active Zika virus infection that potently neutralized virus infection in Vero cells at the nanogram-per-milliliter range. In addition, these antibodies enhanced internalization of virions into human leukemia K562 cells in vitro, indicating their possible ability to cause antibody-dependent enhancement of disease. Escape variants of the ZIKV MR766 strain to a potently neutralizing antibody, AC10, exhibited an amino acid substitution at residue S368 in the lateral ridge region of the envelope protein. Analysis of publicly availably ZIKV sequences revealed the S368 site to be conserved among the vast majority (97.6%) of circulating strains. We validated the importance of this residue by engineering a recombinant virus with an S368R point mutation that was unable to be fully neutralized by AC10. Four out of the 12 monoclonal antibodies tested were also unable to neutralize the virus with the S368R mutation, suggesting this region to be an important immunogenic epitope during human infection. Last, a time-of-addition infection assay further validated the escape variant and showed that all monoclonal antibodies inhibited virus binding to the cell surface. Thus, the present study demonstrates that the lateral ridge region of the envelope protein is likely an immunodominant, neutralizing epitope.
IMPORTANCE Zika virus (ZIKV) is a global health threat causing severe disease in humans, including microcephaly in newborns and Guillain-Barré syndrome in adults. Here, we analyzed the human monoclonal antibody response to acute ZIKV infection and found that neutralizing antibodies could not elicit Fc-mediated immune effector functions but could potentiate antibody-dependent enhancement of disease. We further identified critical epitopes involved with neutralization by generating and characterizing escape variants by whole-genome sequencing. We demonstrate that the lateral ridge region, particularly the S368 amino acid site, is critical for neutralization by domain III-specific antibodies.