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Tilting the Balance between Canonical and Noncanonical Conformations for the H1 Hypervariable Loop of a Llama VHH through Point Mutations

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journal contribution
posted on 10.01.2013, 00:00 by Sai Pooja Mahajan, Camilo Velez-Vega, Fernando A. Escobedo
Nanobodies are single-domain antibodies found in camelids. These are the smallest naturally occurring binding domains and derive functionality via three hypervariable loops (H1–H3) that form the binding surface. They are excellent candidates for antibody engineering because of their favorable characteristics like small size, high solubility, and stability. To rationally engineer antibodies with affinity for a specific target, the hypervariable loops can be tailored to obtain the desired binding surface. As a first step toward such a goal, we consider the design of loops with a desired conformation. In this study, we focus on the H1 loop of the anti-hCG llama nanobody that exhibits a noncanonical conformation. We aim to “tilt” the stability of the H1 loop structure from a noncanonical conformation to a (humanized) type 1 canonical conformation by studying the effect of selected mutations to the amino acid sequence of the H1, H2, and proximal residues. We use all-atomistic, explicit-solvent, biased molecular dynamic simulations to simulate the wild-type and mutant loops in a prefolded framework. We thus find mutants with increasing propensity to form a stable type 1 canonical conformation of the H1 loop. Free energy landscapes reveal the existence of conformational isomers of the canonical conformation that may play a role in binding different antigenic surfaces. We also elucidate the approximate mechanism and kinetics of transitions between such conformational isomers by using a Markovian model. We find that a particular three-point mutant has the strongest thermodynamic propensity to form the H1 type 1 canonical structure but also to exhibit transitions between conformational isomers, while a different, more rigid three-point mutant has the strongest propensity to be kinetically trapped in such a canonical structure.

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