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PLoS One. 2013 May 10;8(5):e62791. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062791. Print 2013.

Inhibiting HER3-mediated tumor cell growth with affibody molecules engineered to low picomolar affinity by position-directed error-prone PCR-like diversification.

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  • 1Division of Protein Technology, School of Biotechnology, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden.

Erratum in

  • PLoS One. 2013;8(11). doi:10.1371/annotation/0d29f87c-8dfb-4694-abc7-7284a970910d.


The HER3 receptor is implicated in the progression of various cancers as well as in resistance to several currently used drugs, and is hence a potential target for development of new therapies. We have previously generated Affibody molecules that inhibit heregulin-induced signaling of the HER3 pathways. The aim of this study was to improve the affinity of the binders to hopefully increase receptor inhibition efficacy and enable a high receptor-mediated uptake in tumors. We explored a novel strategy for affinity maturation of Affibody molecules that is based on alanine scanning followed by design of library diversification to mimic the result from an error-prone PCR reaction, but with full control over mutated positions and thus less biases. Using bacterial surface display and flow-cytometric sorting of the maturation library, the affinity for HER3 was improved more than 30-fold down to 21 pM. The affinity is among the higher that has been reported for Affibody molecules and we believe that the maturation strategy should be generally applicable for improvement of affinity proteins. The new binders also demonstrated an improved thermal stability as well as complete refolding after denaturation. Moreover, inhibition of ligand-induced proliferation of HER3-positive breast cancer cells was improved more than two orders of magnitude compared to the previously best-performing clone. Radiolabeled Affibody molecules showed specific targeting of a number of HER3-positive cell lines in vitro as well as targeting of HER3 in in vivo mouse models and represent promising candidates for future development of targeted therapies and diagnostics.

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