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J Mol Biol. 2012 Feb 10;416(1):94-107. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2011.12.021. Epub 2011 Dec 16.

Engineering antibody fitness and function using membrane-anchored display of correctly folded proteins.

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School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


A hallmark of the bacterial twin-arginine translocation (Tat) pathway is its ability to export folded proteins. Here, we discovered that overexpressed Tat substrate proteins form two distinct, long-lived translocation intermediates that are readily detected by immunolabeling methods. Formation of the early translocation intermediate Ti-1, which exposes the N- and C-termini to the cytoplasm, did not require an intact Tat translocase, a functional Tat signal peptide, or a correctly folded substrate. In contrast, formation of the later translocation intermediate, Ti-2, which exhibits a bitopic topology with the N-terminus in the cytoplasm and C-terminus in the periplasm, was much more particular, requiring an intact translocase, a functional signal peptide, and a correctly folded substrate protein. The ability to directly detect Ti-2 intermediates was subsequently exploited for a new protein engineering technology called MAD-TRAP (membrane-anchored display for Tat-based recognition of associating proteins). Through the use of just two rounds of mutagenesis and screening with MAD-TRAP, the intracellular folding and antigen-binding activity of a human single-chain antibody fragment were simultaneously improved. This approach has several advantages for library screening, including the unique involvement of the Tat folding quality control mechanism that ensures only native-like proteins are displayed, thus eliminating poorly folded sequences from the screening process.

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