Comparative Analysis of Immune Repertoires between Bactrian Camel's Conventional and Heavy-Chain Antibodies

PLoS One. 2016 Sep 2;11(9):e0161801. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0161801. eCollection 2016.


Compared to classical antibodies, camel heavy chain antibodies (HCAbs) are smaller in size due to lack of the light chain and the first constant domain of the heavy chain (CH1 region). The variable regions of HCAbs (VHHs) are more soluble and stable than that of conventional antibodies (VHs). Even with such simple structure, they are still functional in antigen binding. Although HCAbs have been extensively investigated over the past two decades, most efforts have been based upon low throughput sequence analysis, and there are only limited reports trying to analyze and describe the complete immune repertoire (IR) of camel HCAbs. Here we leveraged the high-throughput data generated by Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) of the variable domains of the antibody heavy chains from three Bactrian camels to conduct in-depth comparative analyses of the immunoglobulin repertoire. These include analyses of the complementary determining region 3 (CDR3) length and distribution, mutation rate, antibody characteristic amino acids, the distribution of the cysteine (Cys) codons, and the non-classical VHHs. We found that there is higher diversity in the CDR2 than in the other sub-regions, and there is a higher mutation rate in the VHHs than in the VHs (P < 0.05). In addition to substitutions at amino acid (AA) residue positions NO.49/50/52 between VH and VHH clones, we also observed other substitutions at the positions NO.40/54/57/96/101 that could lead to additional structural alterations. We also found that VH-derived VHH clones, referred to as non-classical VHH clones in this study, accounted for about 8% of all clones. Further, only 5%-10% clones had the Trp > Arg AA substitution at the first position of framework 4 for all types of clones. We present, for the first time, a relatively complete picture of the Bactrian camel antibody immune repertoire, including conventional antibody (Ab) and HCAbs, using PCR and in silico analysis based on high-throughput NGS data.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Camelus
  • Genes, Immunoglobulin*
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Immunoglobulin Heavy Chains / genetics*
  • Immunoglobulin Variable Region / genetics*


  • Immunoglobulin Heavy Chains
  • Immunoglobulin Variable Region

Grant support

This work was supported by BGI-Shenzhen—South China University of Technology, Renovation foundation (SW20130804). The website of BGI-Shenzhen is The website of South China University of Technology is Tan W and Liu X received the funding. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.