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Proteins. 2009 Jun;75(4):846-58. doi: 10.1002/prot.22293.

Multi-constraint computational design suggests that native sequences of germline antibody H3 loops are nearly optimal for conformational flexibility.

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California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California 94158-2330, USA.


The limited size of the germline antibody repertoire has to recognize a far larger number of potential antigens. The ability of a single antibody to bind multiple ligands due to conformational flexibility in the antigen-binding site can significantly enlarge the repertoire. Among the six complementarity determining regions (CDRs) that generally comprise the binding site, the CDR H3 loop is particularly variable. Computational protein design studies showed that predicted low energy sequences compatible with a given backbone structure often have considerable similarity to the corresponding native sequences of naturally occurring proteins, indicating that native protein sequences are close to optimal for their structures. Here, we take a step forward to determine whether conformational flexibility, believed to play a key functional role in germline antibodies, is also central in shaping their native sequence. In particular, we use a multi-constraint computational design strategy, along with the Rosetta scoring function, to propose that the native sequences of CDR H3 loops from germline antibodies are nearly optimal for conformational flexibility. Moreover, we find that antibody maturation may lead to sequences with a higher degree of optimization for a single conformation, while disfavoring sequences that are intrinsically flexible. In addition, this computational strategy allows us to predict mutations in the CDR H3 loop to stabilize the antigen-bound conformation, a computational mimic of affinity maturation, that may increase antigen binding affinity by preorganizing the antigen binding loop. In vivo affinity maturation data are consistent with our predictions. The method described here can be useful to design antibodies with higher selectivity and affinity by reducing conformational diversity.

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