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Protein Eng. 1997 Apr;10(4):435-44.

Disrupting the hydrophobic patches at the antibody variable/constant domain interface: improved in vivo folding and physical characterization of an engineered scFv fragment.

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Biochemisches Institut, Universität Zürich, Switzerland.


By constructing Fv and single-chain Fv (scFv) fragments of antibodies, the variable domains are taken out of their natural context in the Fab fragment, where they are associated with the constant domains of the light (CL) and heavy chain (CH1). As a consequence, all residues of the former variable/constant domain interface become solvent exposed. In an analysis of 30 non-redundant Fab structures it was found that at the former variable/constant domain interface of the Fv fragment the frequency of exposed hydrophobic residues is much higher than in the rest of the Fv fragment surface. We investigated the importance of these residues for different properties such as folding in vivo and in vitro, thermodynamic stability, solubility of the native protein and antigen affinity. The experimental model system was the scFv fragment of the anti-fluorescein antibody 4-4-20, of which only 2% is native when expressed in the periplasm of Escherichia coli. To improve its in vivo folding, a mutagenesis study of three newly exposed interfacial residues in various combinations was carried out. The replacement of one of the residues (V84D in VH) led to a 25-fold increase of the functional periplasmic expression yield of the scFv fragment of the antibody 4-4-20. With the purified scFv fragment it was shown that the thermodynamic stability and the antigen binding constant are not influenced by these mutations, but the rate of the thermally induced aggregation reaction is decreased. Only a minor effect on the solubility of the native protein was observed, demonstrating that the mutations prevent aggregation during folding and not of the native protein. Since the construction of all scFv fragments leads to the exposure of these residues at the former variable/constant domain interface, this strategy should be generally applicable for improving the in vivo folding of scFv fragments and, by analogy, also the in vivo folding of other engineered protein domains.

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