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1.  A Single VHH-Based Toxin-Neutralizing Agent and an Effector Antibody Protect Mice against Challenge with Shiga Toxins 1 and 2 
Infection and Immunity  2013;81(12):4592-4603.
Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) is a major cause of severe food-borne disease worldwide, and two Shiga toxins, Stx1 and Stx2, are primarily responsible for the serious disease consequence, hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS). Here we report identification of a panel of heavy-chain-only antibody (Ab) VH (VHH) domains that neutralize Stx1 and/or Stx2 in cell-based assays. VHH heterodimer toxin-neutralizing agents containing two linked Stx1-neutralizing VHHs or two Stx2-neutralizing VHHs were generally much more potent at Stx neutralization than a pool of the two-component monomers tested in cell-based assays and in vivo mouse models. We recently reported that clearance of toxins can be promoted by coadministering a VHH-based toxin-neutralizing agent with an antitag monoclonal antibody (MAb), called the “effector Ab,” that indirectly decorates each toxin molecule with four Ab molecules. Decoration occurs because the Ab binds to a common epitopic tag present at two sites on each of the two VHH heterodimer molecules that bind to each toxin molecule. Here we show that coadministration of effector Ab substantially improved the efficacy of Stx toxin-neutralizing agents to prevent death or kidney damage in mice following challenge with Stx1 or Stx2. A single toxin-neutralizing agent consisting of a double-tagged VHH heterotrimer—one Stx1-specific VHH, one Stx2-specific VHH, and one Stx1/Stx2 cross-specific VHH—was effective in preventing all symptoms of intoxication from Stx1 and Stx2 when coadministered with effector Ab. Overall, the availability of simple, defined, recombinant proteins that provide cost-effective protection against HUS opens up new therapeutic approaches to managing disease.
PMCID: PMC3837998  PMID: 24082082
2.  Llama Antibody Fragments with Cross-Subtype Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 (HIV-1)-Neutralizing Properties and High Affinity for HIV-1 gp120▿ †  
Journal of Virology  2008;82(24):12069-12081.
Members of the Camelidae family produce immunoglobulins devoid of light chains. We have characterized variable domains of these heavy chain antibodies, the VHH, from llamas immunized with human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) envelope protein gp120 in order to identify VHH that can inhibit HIV-1 infection. To increase the chances of isolating neutralizing VHH, we employed a functional selection approach, involving panning of phage libraries expressing the VHH repertoire on recombinant gp120, followed by a competitive elution with soluble CD4. By immunizing with gp120 derived from an HIV-1 subtype B′/C primary isolate, followed by panning on gp120 from HIV-1 isolates of subtypes A, B, and C, we could select for VHH with cross-subtype neutralizing activity. Three VHH able to neutralize HIV-1 primary isolates of subtypes B and C were characterized. These bound to recombinant gp120 with affinities close to the suggested affinity ceiling for in vivo-maturated antibodies and competed with soluble CD4 for this binding, indicating that their mechanism of neutralization involves interacting with the functional envelope spike prior to binding to CD4. The most potent VHH in terms of low 50% inhibitory concentration (IC50) and IC90 values and cross-subtype reactivity was A12. These results indicate that camelid VHH can be potent HIV-1 entry inhibitors. Since VHH are stable and can be produced at a relatively low cost, they may be considered for applications such as HIV-1 microbicide development. Antienvelope VHH might also prove useful in defining neutralizing and nonneutralizing epitopes on HIV-1 envelope proteins, with implications for HIV-1 vaccine design.
PMCID: PMC2593325  PMID: 18842738
3.  A rapid live-cell ELISA for characterizing antibodies against cell surface antigens of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and its use in isolating algae from natural environments with related cell wall components 
BMC Plant Biology  2014;14:244.
Cell walls are essential for most bacteria, archaea, fungi, algae and land plants to provide shape, structural integrity and protection from numerous biotic and abiotic environmental factors. In the case of eukaryotic algae, relatively little is known of the composition, structure or mechanisms of assembly of cell walls in individual species or between species and how these differences enable algae to inhabit a great diversity of environments. In this paper we describe the use of camelid antibody fragments (VHHs) and a streamlined ELISA assay as powerful new tools for obtaining mono-specific reagents for detecting individual algal cell wall components and for isolating algae that share a particular cell surface component.
To develop new microalgal bioprospecting tools to aid in the search of environmental samples for algae that share similar cell wall and cell surface components, we have produced single-chain camelid antibodies raised against cell surface components of the single-cell alga, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. We have cloned the variable-region domains (VHHs) from the camelid heavy-chain-only antibodies and overproduced tagged versions of these monoclonal-like antibodies in E. coli. Using these VHHs, we have developed an accurate, facile, low cost ELISA that uses live cells as a source of antigens in their native conformation and that requires less than 90 minutes to perform. This ELISA technique was demonstrated to be as accurate as standard ELISAs that employ proteins from cell lysates and that generally require >24 hours to complete. Among the cloned VHHs, VHH B11, exhibited the highest affinity (EC50 < 1 nM) for the C. reinhardtii cell surface. The live-cell ELISA procedure was employed to detect algae sharing cell surface components with C. reinhardtii in water samples from natural environments. In addition, mCherry-tagged VHH B11 was used along with fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS) to select individual axenic isolates of presumed wild relatives of C. reinhardtii and other Chlorphyceae from the same environmental samples.
Camelid antibody VHH domains provide a highly specific tool for detection of individual cell wall components of algae and for allowing the selection of algae that share a particular cell surface molecule from diverse ecosystems.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12870-014-0244-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4181299  PMID: 25252698
Live-cell ELISA; Camelid antibodies; Algae; Cell walls; VHH; Chlamydomonas; Chlorophyceae; Cell wall conservation; Nanobodies
4.  Cell Penetrable Humanized-VH/VHH That Inhibit RNA Dependent RNA Polymerase (NS5B) of HCV 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e49254.
NS5B is pivotal RNA dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) of HCV and NS5B function interfering halts the virus infective cycle. This work aimed to produce cell penetrable humanized single domain antibodies (SdAb; VH/VHH) that interfere with the RdRp activity. Recombinant NS5BΔ55 of genotype 3a HCV with de novo RNA synthetic activity was produced and used in phage biopanning for selecting phage clones that displayed NS5BΔ55 bound VH/VHH from a humanized-camel VH/VHH display library. VH/VHH from E. coli transfected with four selected phage clones inhibited RdRp activity when tested by ELISA inhibition using 3′di-cytidylate 25 nucleotide directed in vitro RNA synthesis. Deduced amino acid sequences of two clones showed VHH hallmark and were designated VHH6 and VHH24; other clones were conventional VH, designated VH9 and VH13. All VH/VHH were linked molecularly to a cell penetrating peptide, penetratin. The cell penetrable VH9, VH13, VHH6 and VHH24 added to culture of Huh7 cells transfected with JHF-1 RNA of genotype 2a HCV reduced the amounts of RNA intracellularly and in culture medium implying that they inhibited the virus replication. VH/VHH mimotopes matched with residues scattered on the polymerase fingers, palm and thumb which were likely juxtaposed to form conformational epitopes. Molecular docking revealed that the antibodies covered the RdRp catalytic groove. The transbodies await further studies for in vivo role in inhibiting HCV replication.
PMCID: PMC3493538  PMID: 23145135
5.  Camelid single domain antibodies (VHHs) as neuronal cell intrabody binding agents and inhibitors of Clostridium botulinum neurotoxin (BoNT) proteases 
Botulinum neurotoxins (BoNTs) function by delivering a protease to neuronal cells that cleave SNARE proteins and inactivate neurotransmitter exocytosis. Small (14 kDa) binding domains specific for the protease of BoNT serotypes A or B were selected from libraries of heavy chain only antibody domains (VHHs or nanobodies) cloned from immunized alpacas. Several VHHs bind the BoNT proteases with high affinity (KD near 1 nM) and include potent inhibitors of BoNT/A protease activity (Ki near 1 nM). The VHHs retain their binding specificity and inhibitory functions when expressed within mammalian neuronal cells as intrabodies. A VHH inhibitor of BoNT/A protease was able to protect neuronal cell SNAP25 protein from cleavage following intoxication with BoNT/A holotoxin. These results demonstrate that VHH domains have potential as components of therapeutic agents for reversal of botulism intoxication.
PMCID: PMC2946066  PMID: 20637220
VHH; Nanobody; Intrabody; Botulinum; Neurotoxin; BoNT; Metalloproteinase
6.  Design and Selection of a Camelid Single-Chain Antibody Yeast Two-Hybrid Library Produced De Novo for the Cap Protein of Porcine Circovirus Type 2 (PCV2) 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e56222.
Nanobodies (or variable domain of the heavy chain of the heavy-chain antibodies, VHHs) are single-domain antigen-binding fragments derived from camelid heavy chain antibodies. Their comparatively small size, monomeric behavior, high stability, high solubility, and ability to bind epitopes inaccessible to conventional antibodies make them especially suitable for many therapeutic and biotechnological applications. In this paper, for the first time, we created the immunized Camelus Bactrianus VHH yeast two-hybrid (Y2H) library according to the Clontech Mate & Plate library construction system. The transformation efficiency and titer of the VHH Y2H library were 7.26×106 cfu/3 µg and 2×109 cfu/ml, which met the demand for Y2H library screening. Using as an example the porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV2) Cap protein as bait, we screened 21 positive Cap-specific VHH sequences. Among these sequences, 7 of 9 randomly selected clones were strongly positive as indicated by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, either using PCV2 viral lysis or purified Cap protein as coated antigen. Additionally, the immunocytochemistry results further indicated that the screened VHHs could specifically detected PCV2 in the infected cells. All this suggests the feasibility of in vivo VHH throughput screening based on Y2H strategy.
PMCID: PMC3585807  PMID: 23469171
7.  Llama-Derived Single-Chain Antibody Fragments Directed to Rotavirus VP6 Protein Possess Broad Neutralizing Activity In Vitro and Confer Protection against Diarrhea in Mice▿  
Journal of Virology  2008;82(19):9753-9764.
Group A rotavirus is one of the most common causes of severe diarrhea in human infants and newborn animals. Rotavirus virions are triple-layered particles. The outer capsid proteins VP4 and VP7 are highly variable and represent the major neutralizing antigens. The inner capsid protein VP6 is conserved among group A rotaviruses, is highly immunogenic, and is the target antigen of most immunodiagnosis tests. Llama-derived single-chain antibody fragments (VHH) are the smallest molecules with antigen-binding capacity and can therefore be expected to have properties different from conventional antibodies. In this study a library containing the VHH genes of a llama immunized with recombinant inner capsid protein VP6 was generated. Binders directed to VP6, in its native conformation within the viral particle, were selected and characterized. Four selected VHH directed to conformational epitopes of VP6 recognized all human and animal rotavirus strains tested and could be engineered for their use in immunodiagnostic tests for group A rotavirus detection. Three of the four VHH neutralized rotavirus in vivo independently of the strain serotype. Furthermore, this result was confirmed by in vivo partial protection against rotavirus challenge in a neonatal mouse model. The present study demonstrates for the first time a broad neutralization activity of VP6 specific VHH in vitro and in vivo. Neutralizing VHH directed to VP6 promise to become an essential tool for the prevention and treatment of rotavirus diarrhea.
PMCID: PMC2546978  PMID: 18632867
8.  Co-Expression of Anti-Rotavirus Proteins (Llama VHH Antibody Fragments) in Lactobacillus: Development and Functionality of Vectors Containing Two Expression Cassettes in Tandem 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e96409.
Rotavirus is an important pediatric pathogen, causing severe diarrhea and being associated with a high mortality rate causing approximately 500 000 deaths annually worldwide. Even though some vaccines are currently available, their efficacy is lower in the developing world, as compared to developed countries. Therefore, alternative or complementary treatment options are needed in the developing countries where the disease burden is the largest. The effect of Lactobacillus in promoting health and its use as a vehicle for delivery of protein and antibody fragments was previously shown. In this study, we have developed co-expression vectors enabling Lactobacillus paracasei BL23 to produce two VHH fragments against rotavirus (referred to as anti-rotavirus proteins 1 and 3, ARP1 and ARP3) as secreted and/or surface displayed products. ARP1 and ARP3 fragments were successfully co-expressed as shown by Western blot and flow cytometry. In addition, engineered Lactobacillus produced VHH antibody fragments were shown to bind to a broad range of rotavirus serotypes (including the human rotavirus strains 69M, Va70, F45, DS1, Wa and ST3 and simian rotavirus strains including RRV and SA11), by flow cytometry and ELISA. Hereby, we have demonstrated for the first time that when RRV was captured by one VHH displayed on the surface of co-expressor Lactobacillus, targeting other epitope was possible with another VHH secreted from the same bacterium. Therefore, Lactobacillus producing two VHH antibody fragments may potentially serve as treatment against rotavirus with a reduced risk of development of escape mutants. This co-expression and delivery platform can also be used for delivery of VHH fragments against a variety of mucosal pathogens or production of other therapeutic molecules.
PMCID: PMC4004553  PMID: 24781086
9.  Differential Neutralizing Activities of a Single Domain Camelid Antibody (VHH) Specific for Ricin Toxin’s Binding Subunit (RTB) 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e99788.
Ricin, a member of the A-B family of ribosome-inactivating proteins, is classified as a Select Toxin by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because of its potential use as a biothreat agent. In an effort to engineer therapeutics for ricin, we recently produced a collection of alpaca-derived, heavy-chain only antibody VH domains (VHH or “nanobody”) specific for ricin’s enzymatic (RTA) and binding (RTB) subunits. We reported that one particular RTB-specific VHH, RTB-B7, when covalently linked via a peptide spacer to different RTA-specific VHHs, resulted in heterodimers like VHH D10/B7 that were capable of passively protecting mice against a lethal dose challenge with ricin. However, RTB-B7 itself, when mixed with ricin at a 1∶10 toxin:antibody ratio did not afford any protection in vivo, even though it had demonstrable toxin-neutralizing activity in vitro. To better define the specific attributes of antibodies associated with ricin neutralization in vitro and in vivo, we undertook a more thorough characterization of RTB-B7. We report that RTB-B7, even at 100-fold molar excess (toxin:antibody) was unable to alter the toxicity of ricin in a mouse model. On the other hand, in two well-established cytotoxicity assays, RTB-B7 neutralized ricin with a 50% inhibitory concentration (IC50) that was equivalent to that of 24B11, a well-characterized and potent RTB-specific murine monoclonal antibody. In fact, RTB-B7 and 24B11 were virtually identical when compared across a series of in vitro assays, including adherence to and neutralization of ricin after the toxin was pre-bound to cell surface receptors. RTB-B7 differed from both 24B11 and VHH D10/B7 in that it was relatively less effective at blocking ricin attachment to receptors on host cells and was not able to form high molecular weight toxin:antibody complexes in solution. Whether either of these activities is important in ricin toxin neutralizing activity in vivo remains to be determined.
PMCID: PMC4053406  PMID: 24918772
10.  Competitive Selection from Single Domain Antibody Libraries Allows Isolation of High-Affinity Antihapten Antibodies That Are Not Favored in the llama Immune Response 
Analytical chemistry  2011;83(18):7213-7220.
Single-domain antibodies (sdAbs) found in camelids, lack a light chain and their antigen-binding site sits completely in the heavy-chain variable domain (VHH). Their simplicity, thermostability, and ease in expression have made VHHs highly attractive. While this has been successfully exploited for macromolecular antigens, their application to the detection of small molecules is still limited to a very few reports, mostly describing low affinity VHHs. Using triclocarban (TCC) as a model hapten, we found that conventional antibodies, IgG1 fraction, reacted with free TCC with a higher relative affinity (IC50 51.0 ng/mL) than did the sdAbs (IgG2 and IgG3, 497 and 370 ng/mL, respectively). A VHH library was prepared, and by elution of phage with limiting concentrations of TCC and competitive selection of binders, we were able to isolate high-affinity clones, KD 0.98–1.37 nM (SPR) which allowed development of a competitive assay for TCC with an IC50 = 3.5 ng/mL (11 nM). This represents a 100-fold improvement with regard to the performance of the sdAb serum fraction, and it is 100-fold better than the IC50 attained with other anti-hapten VHHs reported thus far. Despite the modest overall anti-hapten sdAbs response in llamas, a small subpopulation of high affinity VHHs are generated that can be isolated by carefully design of the selection process.
PMCID: PMC3193053  PMID: 21827167
sdAbs; triclocarban; phage display; small-molecule; competitive ELISA
11.  Head-to-Head Comparison of Three Vaccination Strategies Based on DNA and Raw Insect-Derived Recombinant Proteins against Leishmania 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e51181.
Parasitic diseases plague billions of people among the poorest, killing millions annually, and causing additional millions of disability-adjusted life years lost. Leishmaniases affect more than 12 million people, with over 350 million people at risk. There is an urgent need for efficacious and cheap vaccines and treatments against visceral leishmaniasis (VL), its most severe form. Several vaccination strategies have been proposed but to date no head-to-head comparison was undertaken to assess which is the best in a clinical model of the disease. We simultaneously assayed three vaccination strategies against VL in the hamster model, using KMPII, TRYP, LACK, and PAPLE22 vaccine candidate antigens. Four groups of hamsters were immunized using the following approaches: 1) raw extracts of baculovirus-infected Trichoplusia ni larvae expressing individually one of the four recombinant proteins (PROT); 2) naked pVAX1 plasmids carrying the four genes individually (DNA); 3) a heterologous prime-boost (HPB) strategy involving DNA followed by PROT (DNA-PROT); and 4) a Control including empty pVAX1 plasmid followed by raw extract of wild-type baculovirus-infected T. ni larvae. Hamsters were challenged with L. infantum promastigotes and maintained for 20 weeks. While PROT vaccine was not protective, DNA vaccination achieved protection in spleen. Only DNA-PROT vaccination induced significant NO production by macrophages, accompanied by a significant parasitological protection in spleen and blood. Thus, the DNA-PROT strategy elicits strong immune responses and high parasitological protection in the clinical model of VL, better than its corresponding naked DNA or protein versions. Furthermore, we show that naked DNA coupled with raw recombinant proteins produced in insect larvae biofactories –the cheapest way of producing DNA-PROT vaccines– is a practical and cost-effective way for potential “off the shelf” supplying vaccines at very low prices for the protection against leishmaniases, and possibly against other parasitic diseases affecting the poorest of the poor.
PMCID: PMC3517401  PMID: 23236448
12.  Single domain antibodies: promising experimental and therapeutic tools in infection and immunity 
Medical Microbiology and Immunology  2009;198(3):157-174.
Antibodies are important tools for experimental research and medical applications. Most antibodies are composed of two heavy and two light chains. Both chains contribute to the antigen-binding site which is usually flat or concave. In addition to these conventional antibodies, llamas, other camelids, and sharks also produce antibodies composed only of heavy chains. The antigen-binding site of these unusual heavy chain antibodies (hcAbs) is formed only by a single domain, designated VHH in camelid hcAbs and VNAR in shark hcAbs. VHH and VNAR are easily produced as recombinant proteins, designated single domain antibodies (sdAbs) or nanobodies. The CDR3 region of these sdAbs possesses the extraordinary capacity to form long fingerlike extensions that can extend into cavities on antigens, e.g., the active site crevice of enzymes. Other advantageous features of nanobodies include their small size, high solubility, thermal stability, refolding capacity, and good tissue penetration in vivo. Here we review the results of several recent proof-of-principle studies that open the exciting perspective of using sdAbs for modulating immune functions and for targeting toxins and microbes.
PMCID: PMC2714450  PMID: 19529959
Single domain antibodies; Recombinant antibodies; VHH; Nanobody; Enzyme inhibitors; Virus neutralization
13.  Intracellular Expression of Camelid Single-Domain Antibodies Specific for Influenza Virus Nucleoprotein Uncovers Distinct Features of Its Nuclear Localization 
Journal of Virology  2014;89(5):2792-2800.
Perturbation of protein-protein interactions relies mostly on genetic approaches or on chemical inhibition. Small RNA viruses, such as influenza A virus, do not easily lend themselves to the former approach, while chemical inhibition requires that the target protein be druggable. A lack of tools thus constrains the functional analysis of influenza virus-encoded proteins. We generated a panel of camelid-derived single-domain antibody fragments (VHHs) against influenza virus nucleoprotein (NP), a viral protein essential for nuclear trafficking and packaging of the influenza virus genome. We show that these VHHs can target NP in living cells and perturb NP's function during infection. Cytosolic expression of NP-specific VHHs (αNP-VHHs) disrupts virus replication at an early stage of the life cycle. Based on their specificity, these VHHs fall into two distinct groups. Both prevent nuclear import of the viral ribonucleoprotein (vRNP) complex without disrupting nuclear import of NP alone. Different stages of the virus life cycle thus rely on distinct nuclear localization motifs of NP. Their molecular characterization may afford new means of intervention in the virus life cycle.
IMPORTANCE Many proteins encoded by RNA viruses are refractory to manipulation due to their essential role in replication. Thus, studying their function and determining how to disrupt said function through pharmaceutical intervention are difficult. We present a novel method based on single-domain-antibody technology that permits specific targeting and disruption of an essential influenza virus protein in the absence of genetic manipulation of influenza virus itself. Characterization of such interactions may help identify new targets for pharmaceutical intervention. This approach can be extended to study proteins encoded by other viral pathogens.
PMCID: PMC4325724  PMID: 25540369
14.  In Vivo Neutralization of α-Cobratoxin with High-Affinity Llama Single-Domain Antibodies (VHHs) and a VHH-Fc Antibody 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e69495.
Small recombinant antibody fragments (e.g. scFvs and VHHs), which are highly tissue permeable, are being investigated for antivenom production as conventional antivenoms consisting of IgG or F(ab’)2 antibody fragments do not effectively neutralize venom toxins located in deep tissues. However, antivenoms composed entirely of small antibody fragments may have poor therapeutic efficacy due to their short serum half-lives. To increase serum persistence and maintain tissue penetration, we prepared low and high molecular mass antivenom antibodies. Four llama VHHs were isolated from an immune VHH-displayed phage library and were shown to have high affinity, in the low nM range, for α-cobratoxin (α–Cbtx), the most lethal component of Naja kaouthia venom. Subsequently, our highest affinity VHH (C2) was fused to a human Fc fragment to create a VHH2-Fc antibody that would offer prolonged serum persistence. After in planta (Nicotiana benthamiana) expression and purification, we show that our VHH2-Fc antibody retained high affinity binding to α–Cbtx. Mouse α–Cbtx challenge studies showed that our highest affinity VHHs (C2 and C20) and the VHH2-Fc antibody effectively neutralized lethality induced by α–Cbtx at an antibody:toxin molar ratio as low as ca. 0.75×:1. Further research towards the development of an antivenom therapeutic involving these anti-α-Cbtx VHHs and VHH2-Fc antibody molecules should involve testing them as a combination, to determine whether they maintain tissue penetration capability and low immunogenicity, and whether they exhibit improved serum persistence and therapeutic efficacy.
PMCID: PMC3718736  PMID: 23894495
15.  Novel Camelid Antibody Fragments Targeting Recombinant Nucleoprotein of Araucaria hantavirus: A Prototype for an Early Diagnosis of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e108067.
In addition to conventional antibodies, camelids produce immunoglobulins G composed exclusively of heavy chains in which the antigen binding site is formed only by single domains called VHH. Their particular characteristics make VHHs interesting tools for drug-delivery, passive immunotherapy and high-throughput diagnosis. Hantaviruses are rodent-borne viruses of the Bunyaviridae family. Two clinical forms of the infection are known. Hemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome (HFRS) is present in the Old World, while Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) is found on the American continent. There is no specific treatment for HPS and its diagnosis is carried out by molecular or serological techniques, using mainly monoclonal antibodies or hantavirus nucleoprotein (N) to detect IgM and IgG in patient serum. This study proposes the use of camelid VHHs to develop alternative methods for diagnosing and confirming HPS. Phage display technology was employed to obtain VHHs. After immunizing one Lama glama against the recombinant N protein (prNΔ85) of a Brazilian hantavirus strain, VHH regions were isolated to construct an immune library. VHHs were displayed fused to the M13KO7 phage coat protein III and the selection steps were performed on immobilized prNΔ85. After selection, eighty clones recognized specifically the N protein. These were sequenced, grouped based mainly on the CDRs, and five clones were analyzed by western blot (WB), surface plasmon resonance (SPR) device, and ELISA. Besides the ability to recognize prNΔ85 by WB, all selected clones showed affinity constants in the nanomolar range. Additionaly, the clone KC329705 is able to detect prNΔ85 in solution, as well as the native viral antigen. Findings support the hypothesis that selected VHHs could be a powerful tool in the development of rapid and accurate HPS diagnostic assays, which are essential to provide supportive care to patients and reduce the high mortality rate associated with hantavirus infections.
PMCID: PMC4171512  PMID: 25243411
16.  Enhancement of toxin- and virus-neutralizing capacity of single-domain antibody fragments by N-glycosylation 
Single-domain antibody fragments (VHHs) have several beneficial properties as compared to conventional antibody fragments. However, their small size complicates their toxin- and virus-neutralizing capacity. We isolated 27 VHHs binding Escherichia coli heat-labile toxin and expressed these in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The most potent neutralizing VHH (LT109) was N-glycosylated, resulting in a large increase in molecular mass. This suggests that N-glycosylation of LT109 improves its neutralizing capacity. Indeed, deglycosylation of LT109 decreased its neutralizing capacity three- to fivefold. We also studied the effect of glycosylation of two previously isolated VHHs on their ability to neutralize foot-and-mouth disease virus. For this purpose, these VHHs that lacked potential N-glycosylation sites were genetically fused to another VHH that was known to be glycosylated. The resulting fusion proteins were also N-glycosylated. They neutralized the virus at at least fourfold-lower VHH concentrations as compared to the single, non-glycosylated VHHs and at at least 50-fold-lower VHH concentrations as compared to their deglycosylated counterparts. Thus, we have shown that N-glycosylation of VHHs contributes to toxin- and virus-neutralizing capacity.
PMCID: PMC2755796  PMID: 19455325
Nanobody; Recombinant antibody; Neutralization; N-glycosylation; Yeast
17.  Engineered Single-Domain Antibodies with High Protease Resistance and Thermal Stability 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e28218.
The extreme pH and protease-rich environment of the upper gastrointestinal tract is a major obstacle facing orally-administered protein therapeutics, including antibodies. Through protein engineering, several Clostridium difficile toxin A-specific heavy chain antibody variable domains (VHHs) were expressed with an additional disulfide bond by introducing Ala/Gly54Cys and Ile78Cys mutations. Mutant antibodies were compared to their wild-type counterparts with respect to expression yield, non-aggregation status, affinity for toxin A, circular dichroism (CD) structural signatures, thermal stability, protease resistance, and toxin A-neutralizing capacity. The mutant VHHs were found to be well expressed, although with lower yields compared to wild-type counterparts, were non-aggregating monomers, retained low nM affinity for toxin A, albeit the majority showed somewhat reduced affinity compared to wild-type counterparts, and were capable of in vitro toxin A neutralization in cell-based assays. Far-UV and near-UV CD spectroscopy consistently showed shifts in peak intensity and selective peak minima for wild-type and mutant VHH pairs; however, the overall CD profile remained very similar. A significant increase in the thermal unfolding midpoint temperature was observed for all mutants at both neutral and acidic pH. Digestion of the VHHs with the major gastrointestinal proteases, at biologically relevant concentrations, revealed a significant increase in pepsin resistance for all mutants and an increase in chymotrypsin resistance for the majority of mutants. Mutant VHH trypsin resistance was similar to that of wild-type VHHs, although the trypsin resistance of one VHH mutant was significantly reduced. Therefore, the introduction of a second disulfide bond in the hydrophobic core not only increases VHH thermal stability at neutral pH, as previously shown, but also represents a generic strategy to increase VHH stability at low pH and impart protease resistance, with only minor perturbations in target binding affinities. These are all desirable characteristics for the design of protein-based oral therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC3227653  PMID: 22140551
18.  Isolation of Alpaca Anti-Hapten Heavy Chain Single Domain Antibodies for Development of Sensitive Immunoassay 
Analytical Chemistry  2011;84(2):1165-1171.
Some unique subclasses of Camelidae antibodies are devoid of light chain and the antigen binding site is comprised exclusively of the variable domain of the heavy chain (VHH). Although conventional antibodies dominate current assay development, recombinant VHHs have a high potential as alternative reagents for the next generation of immunoassay. We expressed VHHs from an immunized alpaca and developed a VHH-based immunoassay using 3-phenoxybenzoic acid (3-PBA), a major metabolite of pyrethroid insecticides as a model system. A phage VHH library was constructed and seven VHH clones were selected by competitive binding with 3-PBA. The best immunoassay developed with one of these VHHs showed an IC50 of 1.4 ng/mL (limit of detection (LOD) = 0.1 ng/mL). These parameters were further improved by using the phage borne VHH, IC50 = 0.1 ng/mL and LOD = 0.01 ng/mL. Both assays showed a similar tolerance to methanol and dimethylsulfoxide up to 50% in assay buffer. The assay was highly specific to 3-PBA and its 4-hydroxylated derivative, 4-hydroxy 3-PBA (150% cross reactivity) with negligible cross reactivity with other tested structural analogs and the recovery from spiked urine sample ranged from 80 to 112%. In conclusion, a highly specific and sensitive VHH for 3-PBA was developed using sequences from immunized alpaca and phage display technology for antibody selection.
PMCID: PMC3264785  PMID: 22148739
19.  Selection and characterization of llama single domain antibodies against N-terminal huntingtin 
Neurological Sciences  2014;36(3):429-434.
Huntington disease is caused by expansion of a CAG repeat in the huntingtin gene that is translated into an elongated polyglutamine stretch within the N-terminal domain of the huntingtin protein. The mutation is thought to introduce a gain-of-toxic function in the mutant huntingtin protein, and blocking this toxicity by antibody binding could alleviate Huntington disease pathology. Llama single domain antibodies (VHH) directed against mutant huntingtin are interesting candidates as therapeutic agents or research tools in Huntington disease because of their small size, high thermostability, low cost of production, possibility of intracellular expression, and potency of blood-brain barrier passage. We have selected VHH from llama phage display libraries that specifically target the N-terminal domain of the huntingtin protein. Our VHH are capable of binding wild-type and mutant human huntingtin under native and denatured conditions and can be used in Huntington disease studies as a novel antibody that is easy to produce and manipulate.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s10072-014-1971-6) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4341019  PMID: 25294428
VHH; Huntington disease; PolyQ; N-terminal huntingtin; Huntingtin
20.  Adenoviral targeting using genetically incorporated camelid single variable domains 
The unique ability of human adenovirus serotype 5 (Ad5) to accomplish efficient transduction has allowed the use of Ad5-based vectors for a range of gene therapy applications. Several strategies have been developed to alter tropism of Ad vectors to achieve a cell-specific gene delivery by employing fiber modifications via genetic incorporation of targeting motifs. In this study we have explored the utility of novel anti-human carcinoembryonic antigen (hCEA) single variable domains derived from heavy chain (VHH) camelid family of antibodies to achieve targeted gene transfer. To obtain anti-CEA VHHs we produced a VHH-display library from peripheral blood lymphocytes RNA of alpacas at the peak of immune response to the hCEA antigen. We genetically incorporated an anti-hCEA VHH into a de-knobbed Ad5 fiber-fibritin chimera and demonstrated selective targeting to the cognate epitope expressed on the membrane surface of target cells. We report that the anti-hCEA VHH employed in this study retains antigen recognition functionality and provides specificity for gene transfer of capsid-modified Ad5 vectors. These studies clearly demonstrated the feasibility of retargeting of Ad5-based gene transfer using VHHs.
PMCID: PMC4157633  PMID: 24933423
Adenovirus; Targeted gene transfer; Single variable domain; Carcinoembryonic antigen; single domain antibody
21.  Mechanism of Action and Capsid-Stabilizing Properties of VHHs with an In Vitro Antipolioviral Activity 
Journal of Virology  2014;88(8):4403-4413.
Previously, we reported on the in vitro antiviral activity of single-domain antibody fragments (VHHs) directed against poliovirus type 1. Five VHHs were found to neutralize poliovirus type 1 in an in vitro setting and showed 50% effective concentrations (EC50s) in the nanomolar range. In the present study, we further investigated the mechanism of action of these VHHs. All five VHHs interfere at multiple levels of the viral replication cycle, as they interfere both with attachment of the virus to cells and with viral uncoating. The latter effect is consistent with their ability to stabilize the poliovirus capsid, as observed in a ThermoFluor thermal shift assay, in which the virus is gradually heated and the temperature causing 50% of the RNA to be released from the capsid is determined, either in the presence or in the absence of the VHHs. The VHH-capsid interactions were also seen to induce aggregation of the virus-VHH complexes. However, this observation cannot yet be linked to their mechanism of action. Cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) reconstructions of two VHHs in complex with poliovirus type 1 show no conformational changes of the capsid to explain this aggregation. On the other hand, these reconstructions do show that the binding sites of VHHs PVSP6A and PVSP29F overlap the binding site for the poliovirus receptor (CD155/PVR) and span interfaces that are altered during receptor-induced conformational changes associated with cell entry. This may explain the interference at the level of cell attachment of the virus as well as their effect on uncoating.
IMPORTANCE The study describes the mechanism of neutralization and the capsid-stabilizing activity of five single-domain antibody fragments (VHHs) that have an in vitro neutralizing activity against poliovirus type 1. The results show that the VHHs interfere at multiple levels of the viral replication cycle (cell attachment and viral uncoating). These mechanisms are possibly shared by some conventional antibodies and may therefore provide some insight into the natural immune responses. Since the binding sites of two VHHs studied by cryo-EM are very similar to that of the receptor, the VHHs can be used as probes to study the authentic virus-cell interaction. The structures and conclusions in this study are original and raise interesting findings regarding virus-receptor interactions and the order of key events early in infection.
PMCID: PMC3993733  PMID: 24501405
22.  Alpaca (Lama pacos) as a convenient source of recombinant camelid heavy chain antibodies (VHHs) 
Journal of immunological methods  2007;324(1-2):13-25.
Recombinant single domain antibody fragments (VHHs) that derive from the unusual camelid heavy chain only IgG class (HCAbs) have many favourable properties compared with single-chain antibodies prepared from conventional IgG. As a result, VHHs have become widely used as binding reagents and are beginning to show potential as therapeutic agents. To date, the source of VHH genetic material has been camels and llamas despite their large size and limited availability. Here we demonstrate that the smaller, more tractable and widely available alpaca is an excellent source of VHH coding DNA. Alpaca sera IgG consists of about 50% HCAbs, mostly of the short-hinge variety. Sequencing of DNA encoding more than 50 random VHH and hinge domains permitted the design of PCR primers that will amplify virtually all alpaca VHH coding DNAs for phage display library construction. Alpacas were immunized with ovine tumour necrosis factor α (TNFα) and a VHH phage display library was prepared from a lymph node that drains the sites of immunizations and successfully employed in the isolation of VHHs that bind and neutralize ovine TNFα.
PMCID: PMC2014515  PMID: 17568607
Recombinant antibody; VHH; HCAb; camelid; alpaca; TNF
23.  Isolation of alpaca anti-idiotypic heavy chain single domain antibody for the aflatoxin immunoassay 
Analytical chemistry  2013;85(17):8298-8303.
Anti-idiotypic antibodies recognize the antigenic determinants of an antibody, thus can be used as surrogate antigens. Single domain antibodies from camlid heavy chain antibodies with the benefit features of small size, thermostability and ease in expression, are leading candidates to produce anti-idiotypic antibodies. In this work, we constructed an antibody phage library from the mRNA of an alpaca immunized with an anti-aflatoxin monoclonal antibody (MAb) 1C11. Three anti-idiotypic VHH antibodies were isolated and applied to immunoassay towards aflatoxin as a coating antigen. The best immunoassay developed with one of these VHH antibodies shows an IC50 of 0.16 ng/mL towards aflatoxin B1 and cross-reactivity towards aflatoxin B2, G1 and G2 of 90.4%, 54.4% and 37.7%, respectively. The VHH-based immunoassay was successfully applied to the analysis of peanuts, corn and rice, which are the predominant commodities regularly contaminated by aflatoxins. A good correlation (r2=0.89) was found between the data obtained from the conventional ELISA and the ELISA based on a VHH coating antigen for the analysis of aflatoxins in peanuts and feedstuff. The use of biotechnology in developing the surrogate, the absence of standard aflatoxin and organic solvents in the synthesis procedures, and the reproducibility of the VHH antibody makes it an ideal strategy for replacing conventional synthesized antigens.
PMCID: PMC3787825  PMID: 23965250
24.  Llama Single Domain Antibodies Specific for the 7 Botulinum Neurotoxin Serotypes as Heptaplex Immunoreagents 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(1):e8818.
There are currently 7 known serotypes of botulinum neurotoxin (BoNT) classified upon non-cross reactivity of neutralizing immunoglobulins. Non-neutralizing immunoglobulins, however, can exhibit cross-reactivities between 2 or more serotypes, particularly mosaic forms, which can hamper the development of highly specific immunoassays, especially if based on polyclonal antisera. Here we employ facile recombinant antibody technology to subtractively select ligands to each of the 7 BoNT serotypes, resulting in populations with very high specificity for their intended serotype.
Methods and Findings
A single llama was immunized with a cocktail of 7 BoNT toxoids to generate a phage display library of single domain antibodies (sdAb, VHH or nanobodies) which were selected on live toxins. Resulting sdAb were capable of detecting both toxin and toxin complex with the best combinations able to detect 100s-10s of pg per 50 µL sample in a liquid bead array. The most sensitive sdAb were combined in a heptaplex assay to identify each of the BoNT serotypes in buffer and milk and to a lesser extent in carrot juice, orange juice and cola. Several anti-A(1) sdAb recognized A2 complex, showing that subtype cross-reactivity within a serotype was evident. Many of our sdAb could act as both captor and tracer for several toxin and toxin complexes suggesting sdAb can be used as architectural probes to indicate BoNT oligomerisation. Six of 14 anti-A clones exhibited inhibition of SNAP-25 cleavage in the neuro-2A assay indicating some sdAb had toxin neutralizing capabilities. Many sdAb were also shown to be refoldable after exposure to high temperatures in contrast to polyclonal antisera, as monitored by circular dichroism.
Our panel of molecularly flexible antibodies should not only serve as a good starting point for ruggedizing assays and inhibitors, but enable the intricate architectures of BoNT toxins and complexes to be probed more extensively.
PMCID: PMC2809108  PMID: 20098614
25.  β-Lactamase Inhibitors Derived from Single-Domain Antibody Fragments Elicited in the Camelidae 
Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy  2001;45(10):2807-2812.
Small, soluble single-domain fragments derived from the unique variable region of dromedary heavy-chain antibodies (VHHs) against enzymes are known to be potent inhibitors. The immunization of dromedaries with the TEM-1 and BcII β-lactamases has lead to the isolation of such single-domain antibody fragments specifically recognizing and inhibiting those β-lactamases. Two VHHs were isolated that inhibit TEM-1 and one BcII inhibiting VHH was identified. All inhibitory VHHs were tight-binding inhibitors. The 50% inhibitory concentrations were determined for all inhibitors and they were all in the same range as the enzyme concentration used in the assay. Addition of the VHHs to the TEM-1 β-lactamase, expressed on the surface of bacteria, leads to a higher ampicillin sensitivity of the bacteria. This innovative strategy could generate multiple potent inhibitors for all types of β-lactamases.
PMCID: PMC90735  PMID: 11557473

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