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Infect Immun. 2013 Nov;81(11):3992-4000. doi: 10.1128/IAI.00462-13. Epub 2013 Aug 12.

Identification of a human monoclonal antibody to replace equine diphtheria antitoxin for treatment of diphtheria intoxication.

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  • 1MassBiologics of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.


Diphtheria antitoxin (DAT) has been the cornerstone of the treatment of Corynebacterium diphtheriae infection for more than 100 years. Although the global incidence of diphtheria has declined steadily over the last quarter of the 20th century, the disease remains endemic in many parts of the world, and significant outbreaks still occur. DAT is an equine polyclonal antibody that is not commercially available in the United States and is in short supply globally. A safer, more readily available alternative to DAT would be desirable. In the current study, we obtained human monoclonal antibodies (hMAbs) directly from antibody-secreting cells in the circulation of immunized human volunteers. We isolated a panel of diverse hMAbs that recognized diphtheria toxoid, as well as a variety of recombinant protein fragments of diphtheria toxin. Forty-five unique hMAbs were tested for neutralization of diphtheria toxin in in vitro cytotoxicity assays with a 50% effective concentration of 0.65 ng/ml for the lead candidate hMAb, 315C4. In addition, 25 μg of 315C4 completely protected guinea pigs from intoxication in an in vivo lethality model, yielding an estimated relative potency of 64 IU/mg. In comparison, 1.6 IU of DAT was necessary for full protection from morbidity and mortality in this model. We further established that our lead candidate hMAb binds to the receptor-binding domain of diphtheria toxin and physically blocks the toxin from binding to the putative receptor, heparin-binding epidermal growth factor-like growth factor. The discovery of a specific and potent human neutralizing antibody against diphtheria toxin holds promise as a potential therapeutic.

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