single domain

Visualizing Endogenous Synaptic Proteins in Living Neurons

The recently published method is based on the generation of disulfide-free “intrabodies”, a structure from the 10th fibronectin type III domain known as FingRs. These affinity molecules were fused to GFP for direct fluorescence miscroscopy. The FingRs do not need di-sulfite bonds and are therefore better folders in mammalian cells. Specifically, a library was screened with in vitro display to identify FingRs that bind two synaptic proteins, Gephyrin and PSD95. After the initial selection, the researchers from USC secondarily screened binders using a cellular localization assay to identify potential FingRs that bind at high affinity in an intracellular environment. As it turned out, only 10-20% of the original positive clones bind well inside the cells, suggesting this type of further screening was a critical step.

The expression of intrabody is transcriptionally regulated by the target protein through a ZFN-repressor fusion. This transcriptional control system matches the expression of the intrabody to that of the target protein regardless of the target’s expression level. This design virtually eliminates unbound FingR, resulting in very low background that allows unobstructed visualization of the target proteins. As result, the FingRs presented in this study enabled live cell visualization of excitatory and inhibitory synapses, and apparently without affecting neuronal function.

Technically, the reason to use in vitro mRNA display was required by the need to use a large library (>10exp12, beyond the limit of the more commonly used phase display) to find good binders. A similar visualization system can be established using more potent affinity domains such as the VHH single-domain antibodies that have only one, sometimes dispensable, di-sulfite bond. The VHH domain nanobodies can be more easily isolated from camelid animals. Another improvement to the visualization system can be made by using stronger, superresolution-ready FPs such as mNeonGreen or mMaple to enable single molecule imaging, which is particularly interesting for studying synapses and applied to the BRAIN initiative.

Gross et al. Neuron, June 2013,

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Immunoprecipitation Tags

Immunoprecipitation is a process of isolating a protein as an antigen by using antibodies against it. It is a powerful tool for studying proteins in biological samples and, in case of Co-IP (meaning immunoprecipitation of complexes containing a known antigen), for analyzing protein-protein interactions. Similar technologies such as chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP), RNA immunoprecipitation (RIP), or crosslinked and iImmunoprecipitation of RNA-protein complexes (CLIP) aid analysis of protein-DNA or protein-RNA interactions.

The major obstacle for achieving effective immunoprecipitation is the difficulty of finding usable antibodies against a target of interest. A common practice is to use tags that are fused to the C- or N-terminus of the target protein, thereby any validated, commercially available antibody can be used for co-IP in different experimental systems. However, caution must be exercised against potential interference of biological functions from the added tags. In general, one should choose tags that have been tested in many situations and proven non-interfering; still, each biological system is different. Independent validation or supporting data should be used when interpreting results from tag-based co-IP.

Tags are often selected based on high quality and commercially available antibodies. Most commonly used tags include: FLAG, Myc, HA, V5, T7, and His, which are quite small in size and in theory less likely to interfere. GST and GFP are in between 20-30kDa, but they are well documented to form self-contained and stable structures independent of their fusion partners and proved to not interfere in many cases. GST can bind to glutathione beads directly, therefore a top choice for pulldown experiments. GFP or other FPs as tags have the advantages of being also a visualization module to follow the protein both inside cells and during pulldown. However, previously available anti-GFP antibodies, either polyclonal or monoclonal, are not comparable to those against other tags, thereby limiting the use of GFP as fusion tag in pulldown experiments.

GFP-Trap, a recent addition to anti-tag antibodies, is an E. coli expressed, single domain fragment derived from camelid heavy chain antibodies (VHH antibodies) with much higher stability, specificity, and affinity, making GFP based pulldown quantitative. This recent advancement should make GFP in line to become the most suitable tags for many aforementioned precipitation experiments.

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Camelid Antibodies

When it was discovered that animals in the camel family produce antibodies with no light chains, the idea that a single-domain fragment can bind as well as a full 4-chain antibody formed a breakthrough. So far it has been a relatively less known one.

Smaller antibody fragments have been tested for therapeutic uses because classical IgG antibodies are too bulky to penetrate tissues well, and very expensive to produce. Different combinations of antigen-binding variable regions are used, e.g. scFv, Fab, diabody, all to some degree of success. In comparison, the N-terminal domain of camelid antibodies, termed VHH domain (nanobody, VHH antibody), represents a naturally evolved, only 13-15 kD in size, fully functional target binding fragment with many advantages.

The only other known species outside camelidae family that has heavy chain antibodies is particular cartilaginous fish, nurse shark. Although the arrangement of CDRs is somewhat different between the camel and shark heavy chain variable regions, they share many characteristics such as extremely high stability (maintaining functions after100 C heat and extreme pH treatment).

Accumulating reports have demonstrated the therapeutic potentials of camelid antibody-based fragments in treating cancer, neural diseases, even use in hair dandruff preventing shampoo. For basic research, the tiny antigen binders can be used as tools for quantitative pull down with unmatched efficiency, recognizing previously inaccessible enzyme cleft as antigens, and providing libraries for binding partner selection.

Allele Biotech has been working on display antibody selection from its early days through an NIH grant, and recently carried out an NIH/NCI contract for scFv yeast display.

Check out Allele’s current Camelid antibody products:

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