Designer genes: recombinant antibody fragments for biological imaging

Q J Nucl Med. 2000 Sep;44(3):268-83.


Monoclonal antibodies (MAbs), with high specificy and high affinity for their target antigens, can be utilized for delivery of agents such as radionuclides, enzymes, drugs, or toxins in vivo. However, the implementation of radiolabeled antibodies as "magic bullets" for detection and treatment of diseases such as cancer has required addressing several shortcomings of murine MAbs. These include their immunogenicity, sub-optimal targeting and pharmacokinetic properties, and practical issues of production and radiolabeling. Genetic engineering provides a powerful approach for redesigning antibodies for use in oncologic applications in vivo. Recombinant fragments have been produced that retain high affinity for target antigens, and display a combination of rapid, high-level tumor targeting with concomitant clearance from normal tissues and the circulation in animal models. An important first step was cloning and engineering of antibody heavy and light chain variable domains into single-chain Fvs (molecular weight, 25-27 kDa), in which the variable regions are joined via a synthetic linker peptide sequence. Although scFvs themselves showed limited tumor uptake in preclinical and clinical studies, they provide a useful building block for intermediate-sized recombinant fragments. Covalently linked dimers or non-covalent dimers of scFvs (also known as diabodies) show improved targeting and clearance properties due to their higher molecular weight (55 kDa) and increased avidity. Further gains can be made by generation of larger recombinant fragments, such as the minibody, an scFv-CH3 fusion protein that self-assembles into a bivalent dimer of 80 kDa. A systematic evaluation of scFv, diabody, minibody, and intact antibody (based on comparison of tumor uptakes, tumor:blood activity ratios, and calculation of an Imaging Figure of Merit) can form the basis for selection of combinations of recombinant fragments and radionuclides for imaging applications. Ease of engineering and expression, combined with novel specificities that will arise from advances in genomic and combinatorial approaches to target discovery, will usher in a new era of recombinant antibodies for biological imaging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal*
  • Genetic Engineering*
  • Immunoglobulin Fragments*
  • Radioimmunodetection*
  • Radiopharmaceuticals*
  • Recombinant Proteins


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Immunoglobulin Fragments
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Recombinant Proteins