The effects of hitchhiker antigens co-eluting with affinity-purified research antibodies

J Chromatogr B Analyt Technol Biomed Life Sci. 2011 Sep 1;879(25):2583-94. doi: 10.1016/j.jchromb.2011.07.016. Epub 2011 Jul 20.


The popularity of Protein G for the purification of antibodies has given rise to an entire industry that supplies scientists with research grade immunoreagents; however, many times the supplied product is contaminated with antigens bound to the antibody's complementarity-determining regions (CDRs). These "hitchhikers" are a category of host cell proteins that are elusive to detect due to their interaction with the antibody in the final product and yet their impact on an experiment or an entire field of study can be far reaching. In an earlier work, the role of hitchhikers on a human anti-histone antibody destined for clinical usage was explored and a stringent purification scheme developed. Here we use a murine monoclonal, which reflects the type of commercial antibody usually purchased for research. We evaluate three purification schemes: a traditional approach using a one-step, low pH elution buffer (pH 2.5); a gentler approach using a pH gradient elution scheme (pH 7 down to pH 2.5); and finally, a more stringent purification patterned on our earlier published method that uses a quaternary amine guard column and a high salt wash during antibody immobilization on the Protein G. We stress that the stringent purification incorporates the pH gradient scheme and is gentler than the low-pH approach. The resulting product from all three purifications is directly compared for binding potency, histone content (using an ELISA based assay) and residual DNA (using quantitative PCR). The results demonstrate that the first two methods are inadequate for hitchhiker removal. The traditional one-step, low pH approach produces a single elution peak containing histone contaminated antibody with picogram quantities of residual DNA, however, the trailing end of the same peak is loaded with antibody complexed to nanogram amounts of DNA, in some cases, over 100 ng. The pH gradient approach provided antibodies accompanied by only picograms of residual DNA and, on average, 1 out of every 10-20 CDRs occupied by a histone antigen. The more stringent approach, using the salt wash prior to elution with the pH gradient, has an average of 1 out of every 75 CDRs contaminated with a histone while the majority of the residual DNA is captured by the quaternary amine column placed in front of the Protein G. The consequences of these contaminants is illustrated by showing how they manifest themselves in unusual antibody potency values ranging from 558% for antibody bound to histone hitchhikers down to 15% for antibody contaminated with DNA hitchhikers. Those samples purified by the recommended stringent approach show potency values between 90 and 101%. Most importantly, we repeatedly demonstrate in a simulated chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assay the ability to precipitate clean plasmid DNA with histone contaminated antibody that had been purified using the traditional one-step, low pH elution approach. Expectedly, those antibodies stringently purified and showing 100% binding potency were unable to precipitate DNA in the absence of histone hitchhikers.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies / chemistry*
  • Antibodies / isolation & purification
  • Antigens / chemistry
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Chromatin Immunoprecipitation
  • Chromatography, Affinity / methods*
  • Complementarity Determining Regions
  • DNA / isolation & purification
  • Drug Contamination*
  • Goats
  • Histones / isolation & purification
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Immunoassay / standards
  • Mice
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds
  • Rabbits


  • Antibodies
  • Antigens
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Complementarity Determining Regions
  • Histones
  • IgG Fc-binding protein, Streptococcus
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds
  • DNA