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J Mol Biol. 2000 Apr 14;297(5):1105-20.

A novel type of receptor protein, based on the lipocalin scaffold, with specificity for digoxigenin.

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Lehrstuhl für Biologische Chemie, Technische Universität München, Freising-Weihenstephan, D-85350, Germany.


We demonstrate that the bilin-binding protein, a member of the lipocalin family of proteins, can be structurally reshaped in order to specifically complex digoxigenin, a steroid ligand commonly used for the non-radioactive labelling of biomolecules. 16 amino acid residues, distributed across the four loops which form the binding site of the bilin-binding protein, were subjected to targeted random mutagenesis. From the resulting library the variant DigA16 was obtained by combined use of phage display and a filter-sandwich colony screening assay, followed by in vitro affinity maturation. DigA16 possesses strong binding activity and high specificity for the digoxigenin group, with a K(D) of 30.2(+/-3.6) nM. The derivative compound digitoxigenin is bound even more tightly, with a K(D) of 2.0(+/-0.52) nM, whereas the steroid glycoside ouabain is not recognized at all. Fusion proteins between DigA16 and alkaline phosphatase were constructed and shown to retain both the digoxigenin-binding function and enzymatic activity, irrespective of whether the enzyme was fused to the N or the C terminus of the bilin-binding protein variant. Our findings suggest that the lipocalin scaffold can be generally employed for the construction of specific receptor proteins, so-called "anticalins", which provide a promising alternative to recombinant antibody fragments.

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