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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1983 Aug;80(16):4949-53.

Generation of protein-reactive antibodies by short peptides is an event of high frequency: implications for the structural basis of immune recognition.


Recent studies have shown that chemically synthesized small peptides can induce antibodies that often react with intact proteins regardless of their position in the folded molecule. These findings are difficult to explain in view of the experimental and theoretical data which suggest that in the absence of forces provided by the folded protein, small peptides in aqueous solution do not readily adopt stable structures. In order to rationalize the two findings, there has been general acceptance of a stochastic model which suggests that the multiple conformers of a peptide in solution induce sets of antibodies with a small percentage reactive with conformations shared by the folded protein. This stochastic model has become less tenable as the success rate for the generation of protein-reactive anti-peptide antibodies has grown. To test the stochastic model, we have used monoclonal anti-peptide antibodies as a way of estimating the frequency with which small peptides induce antibodies that react with folded proteins. We have made monoclonal antibodies to six chemically synthesized peptides from three proteins. The frequency with which the peptides induce protein-reactive antibodies is at least 4 orders of magnitude greater than expected from previous experimental work and vastly different from what would be predicted by calculating the possible number of peptide conformers in solution. These findings make the stochastic model less likely and lead to consideration of other models. Aside from their practical significance for generation of highly specific reagents, these findings may have important implications for the protein folding problem.

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