Introduction: Llama single domain antibody fragments (VHH), which can pass endothelial barriers, are being investigated for targeting amyloid plaque load in Alzheimer's disease (AD). Contrary to conventional human or murine antibodies consisting of IgG or F(ab')2 antibody fragments, VHH are able to effectively pass the blood brain barrier (BBB) in vitro. However, in earlier in vivo studies, anti-amyloid VHH showed poor BBB passage due to their short serum half-lives. It would be of interest to develop a VHH based protein with elongated serum half-life to enhance BBB passage, allowing the VHH to more easily reach the cerebral amyloid deposits.
Methods: To increase serum persistence, the Fc portion of the human IgG1 antibody (hinge plus CH2 and CH3 domains) was fused to the C-terminus of the VHH (VHH-pa2H-Fc). To determine the pharmacokinetics and biodistribution profile of the fusion protein, the chelator p-SCN-Bz-DTPA was linked to the protein and thereafter labeled with radioactive indium-111 ((111)In). Double transgenic APPswe/PS1dE9 and wild type littermates were injected with 20 μg VHH-pa2H-Fc-DTPA-(111)In (10-20 MBq). Pharmacokinetics of the tracer was determined in blood samples at 10 intervals after injection and imaging using microSPECT was performed. The biodistribution of the radioactivity in various excised tissues was measured at 48 h after injection.
Results: We succeeded in the expression of the fusion protein VHH-pa2H-Fc in HEK293T cells with a yield of 50mg/L growth medium. The fusion protein showed homodimerization - necessary for successful Fc neonatal receptor recycling. Compared to VHH-pa2H, the Fc tailed protein retained high affinity for amyloid beta on human AD patient brain tissue sections, and significantly improved serum retention of the VHH. However, at 48 h after systemic injection of the non-fused VHH-DTPA-(111)In and the VHH-Fc-DTPA-(111)In fusion protein in transgenic mice, the specific brain uptake of VHH-Fc-DTPA-(111)In was not improved compared to non-fused VHH-DTPA-(111)In.
Conclusion: Using VHH-Fc conjugates increases the blood half-life of the protein. However, purely extending the time window for brain uptake does not increase BBB passage. Nevertheless, VHH-Fc holds promise for therapeutic applications where a sustained systemic circulation of VHH is advantageous.
Keywords: (111)In labeling; APPswe/PS1dE9 mice; Biodistribution; Fc fusion; SPECT; VHH.
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