Improving the stability of an antibody variable fragment by a combination of knowledge-based approaches: validation and mechanisms

J Mol Biol. 2006 Sep 22;362(3):580-93. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2006.07.044. Epub 2006 Jul 28.


Numerous approaches have been described to obtain variable fragments of antibodies (Fv or scFv) that are sufficiently stable for their applications. Here, we combined several knowledge-based methods to increase the stability of pre-existing scFvs by design. Firstly, the consensus sequence approach was used in a non-stringent way to predict a large basic set of potentially stabilizing mutations. These mutations were then prioritized by other methods of design, mainly the formation of additional hydrogen bonds, an increase in the hydrophilicity of solvent exposed residues, and previously described mutations in other antibodies. We validated this combined method with antibody mAbD1.3, directed against lysozyme. Fourteen potentially stabilizing mutations were designed and introduced into scFvD1.3 by site-directed mutagenesis, either individually or in combinations. We characterized the effects of the mutations on the thermodynamic stability of scFvD1.3 by experiments of unfolding with urea, monitored by spectrofluorometry, and tested the additivity of their effects by double-mutant cycles. We also quantified the individual contributions of the resistance to denaturation ([urea](1/2)) and cooperativity of unfolding (m) to the variations of stability and the energy of coupling between mutations by a novel approach. Most mutations (75%) were stabilizing and none was destabilizing. The progressive recombination of the mutations into the same molecule of scFvD1.3 showed that their effects were mostly additive or synergistic, provided a large overall increase in protein stability (9.1 kcal/mol), and resulted in a highly stable scFvD1.3 derivative. The mechanisms of the mutations and of their combinations involved variations in the resistance to denaturation, cooperativity of unfolding, and likely residual structures of the denatured state, which was constrained by two disulfide bonds. This combined method should be applicable to any recombinant antibody fragment, through a single step of mutagenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / chemistry
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / genetics
  • Drug Design
  • Drug Stability
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Immunoglobulin Variable Region / chemistry*
  • Immunoglobulin Variable Region / genetics
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Knowledge Bases
  • Models, Molecular
  • Muramidase / immunology
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed
  • Protein Denaturation
  • Protein Engineering
  • Recombinant Proteins / chemistry
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics
  • Thermodynamics
  • Urea


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Immunoglobulin Variable Region
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Urea
  • Muramidase