Quantitative specificity-based display library screening identifies determinants of antibody-epitope binding specificity

Protein Sci. 2009 Sep;18(9):1926-34. doi: 10.1002/pro.203.


Despite the critical importance of molecular specificity in bimolecular systems, in vitro display technologies have been applied extensively for affinity maturation of peptides and antibodies without explicitly measuring the specificity of the desired interaction. We devised a general strategy to measure, screen, and evolve specificity of protein ligand interactions analogous to widely used affinity maturation strategies. The specificity of binding to target and nontarget antibodies labeled with spectrally distinct fluorophores was measured simultaneously in protein mixtures via multiparameter flow cytometry, thereby enabling screening for high target antibody specificity. Isolated antibody specific ligands exhibited varying specificity, revealing critical amino acid determinants for target recognition and nontarget avoidance in complex mixtures. Molecular specificity in the mixture was further enhanced by quantitative directed evolution, yielding a family of epitopes exhibiting improved specificities equivalent, or superior to, the native peptide antigen to which the antibody was raised. Specificity screening simultaneously favored affinity, yielding ligands with three-fold improved affinity relative to the parent epitope. Quantitative specificity screening will be useful to screen, evolve, and characterize the specificity of protein and peptide interactions for molecular recognition applications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Antibodies / analysis*
  • Antibodies / immunology
  • Antibody Specificity*
  • Binding Sites, Antibody
  • Epitopes / analysis*
  • Epitopes / immunology
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Peptide Library*


  • Antibodies
  • Epitopes
  • Peptide Library