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Antibodies in cows suggest new human therapies


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Humans have been raising cows for their meat, hides and milk for millennia. Now it appears that the cow immune system also has something to offer. A new study led by scientists from The Scripps Research Institute focusing on an extraordinary family of cow antibodies points to new ways to make human medicines.

“These antibodies’ structure and their mechanism for creating diversity haven’t been seen before in other animals’ antibodies,” said Vaughn V. Smider, assistant professor of cell and molecular biology at TSRI and principal investigator for the study, which appears as the cover story in the June 6, 2013 issue of the journal Cell.

Antibodies, part of our immune system, are large proteins that resemble lobsters — with a tail and two identical arms for grabbing specific targets (called “antigens,” often parts of bacteria or viruses). At the business end of each arm is a small set of protein loops called complementarity-determining regions or CDRs, which actually do the grabbing. By rearranging and mutating the genes that code for CDRs, an animal’s immune system can generate a vast and diverse population of antibodies — which collectively can bind to just about any of the body’s foreign invaders.

In humans and in many other mammals, most of an antibody’s specificity for a target is governed by the largest CDR region, CDR H3. Researchers have been finding hints that an unusually long version of this domain can sometimes be the key to a successful defense against a dangerous infection. For example, in a study reported in Nature last August, Ian A. Wilson, who is Hansen Professor of Structural Biology and chair of the Department of Integrative Structural and Computational Biology at TSRI, and collaborators isolated an anti-HIV antibody with a long CDR H3 region — twice normal length — which allows it to grab a crucial structure on the virus and thereby neutralize the infectivity of most HIV strains.

Waithaka Mwangi, assistant professor in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and an author on the Cell paper, suggests thinking of these long CDRs as a probe on a thin extended scaffold that can fit narrow crevices to reach and bind unique hidden pathogen determinants that ordinary antibodies cannot.

Reports on these antibodies recently caught the interest of Smider, whose area of research includes finding new ways to generate therapeutic antibody proteins. “We started thinking about how we could make these long CDR3s that are so rare in humans, and we knew from the literature that cows make even longer ones all the time,” he said.

To investigate, Smider assembled a collaboration that included the TSRI laboratories of Wilson and Peter G. Schultz, who is the Scripps Family Chair Professor of Chemistry, as well as researchers at CVM. Michael F. Criscitiello, assistant professor at the CVM and a co-author of the paper, embraced the chance to contribute to the groundbreaking study and noted researchers at CVM offered key immunology proficiency with — and access to — cows. “Such collaborations bring together specialists in diverse fields and certainly facilitate future research,” added Terje Raudsepp, associate professor at the CVM and another of the study’s authors.

The team performed a detailed structural and sequence analysis of these unusually long CDR H3 cow antibodies, to gain insight into how they are made naturally — and how such structures might be engineered in the laboratory.

First author Feng Wang, at the time a postdoctoral research associate with Schultz and Smider at TSRI, led the effort to purify long CDR H3 cow antibodies — which represent about 10 percent of the cow antibody repertoire — and analyze their corresponding gene sequences. Co-first author Damien C. Ekiert, at the time a graduate student in the Wilson laboratory at TSRI, was able to crystallize the long CDR H3 antibody samples and determine the 3D atomic structures of two representative antibodies by X-ray crystallography.

One question that remains is why the cow immune system evolved to make such antibodies. Smider suspects that it has to do with cows’ unusual, four-chambered, grass-fermenting stomach, with its extensive collection of bacteria and other microorganisms. “If some of these escape from the stomach and get into the bloodstream or other tissues, there could be some pretty serious infections; so that’s our starting hypothesis for why cows have this unusual immune defense,” he said.

Article Credit: Punch Newspaper

Updated 6 Years ago
 

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