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Immunology. 2014 May;142(1):1-23. doi: 10.1111/imm.12213.

Discovery of protective B-cell epitopes for development of antimicrobial vaccines and antibody therapeutics.

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Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA.


Protective antibodies play an essential role in immunity to infection by neutralizing microbes or their toxins and recruiting microbicidal effector functions. Identification of the protective B-cell epitopes, those parts of microbial antigens that contact the variable regions of the protective antibodies, can lead to development of antibody therapeutics, guide vaccine design, enable assessment of protective antibody responses in infected or vaccinated individuals, and uncover or localize pathogenic microbial functions that could be targeted by novel antimicrobials. Monoclonal antibodies are required to link in vivo or in vitro protective effects to specific epitopes and may be obtained from experimental animals or from humans, and their binding can be localized to specific regions of antigens by immunochemical assays. The epitopes are then identified with mapping methods such as X-ray crystallography of antigen-antibody complexes, antibody inhibition of hydrogen-deuterium exchange in the antigen, antibody-induced alteration of the nuclear magnetic resonance spectrum of the antigen, and experimentally validated computational docking of antigen-antibody complexes. The diversity in shape, size and structure of protective B-cell epitopes, and the increasing importance of protective B-cell epitope discovery to development of vaccines and antibody therapeutics are illustrated through examples from different microbe categories, with emphasis on epitopes targeted by broadly neutralizing antibodies to pathogens of high antigenic variation. Examples include the V-shaped Ab52 glycan epitope in the O-antigen of Francisella tularensis, the concave CR6261 peptidic epitope in the haemagglutinin stem of influenza virus H1N1, and the convex/concave PG16 glycopeptidic epitope in the gp120 V1/V2 loop of HIV type 1.


antibodies; antigens/peptides/epitopes; human; structural biology/crystallography

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