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PLoS One. 2011;6(10):e26299. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026299. Epub 2011 Oct 14.

Enhancement of polymeric immunoglobulin receptor transcytosis by biparatopic VHH.

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  • 1Biomolecular Imaging, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


The polymeric immunoglobulin receptor (pIgR) ensures the transport of dimeric immunoglobulin A (dIgA) and pentameric immunoglobulin M (pIgM) across epithelia to the mucosal layer of for example the intestines and the lungs via transcytosis. Per day the human pIgR mediates the excretion of 2 to 5 grams of dIgA into the mucosa of luminal organs. This system could prove useful for therapies aiming at excretion of compounds into the mucosa. Here we investigated the use of the variable domain of camelid derived heavy chain only antibodies, also known as VHHs or Nanobodies®, targeting the human pIgR, as a transport system across epithelial cells. We show that VHHs directed against the human pIgR are able to bind the receptor with high affinity (∼1 nM) and that they compete with the natural ligand, dIgA. In a transcytosis assay both native and phage-bound VHH were only able to get across polarized MDCK cells that express the human pIgR gene in a basolateral to apical fashion. Indicating that the VHHs are able to translocate across epithelia and to take along large particles of cargo. Furthermore, by making multivalent VHHs we were able to enhance the transport of the compounds both in a MDCK-hpIgR and Caco-2 cell system, probably by inducing receptor clustering. These results show that VHHs can be used as a carrier system to exploit the human pIgR transcytotic system and that multivalent compounds are able to significantly enhance the transport across epithelial monolayers.

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