Modeling the Role of Epitope Arrangement on Antibody Binding Stoichiometry in Flaviviruses

Biophys J. 2016 Oct 18;111(8):1641-1654. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2016.09.003.


Cryo-electron-microscopy (cryo-EM) structures of flaviviruses reveal significant variation in epitope occupancy across different monoclonal antibodies that have largely been attributed to epitope-level differences in conformation or accessibility that affect antibody binding. The consequences of these variations for macroscopic properties such as antibody binding and neutralization are the results of the law of mass action-a stochastic process of innumerable binding and unbinding events between antibodies and the multiple binding sites on the flavivirus in equilibrium-that cannot be directly imputed from structure alone. We carried out coarse-grained spatial stochastic binding simulations for nine flavivirus antibodies with epitopes defined by cryo-EM or x-ray crystallography to assess the role of epitope spatial arrangement on antibody-binding stoichiometry, occupancy, and neutralization. In our simulations, all epitopes were equally competent for binding, representing the upper limit of binding stoichiometry that results from epitope spatial arrangement alone. Surprisingly, our simulations closely reproduced the relative occupancy and binding stoichiometry observed in cryo-EM, without having to account for differences in epitope accessibility or conformation, suggesting that epitope spatial arrangement alone may be sufficient to explain differences in binding occupancy and stoichiometry between antibodies. Furthermore, we found that there was significant heterogeneity in binding configurations even at saturating antibody concentrations, and that bivalent antibody binding may be more common than previously thought. Finally, we propose a structure-based explanation for the stoichiometric threshold model of neutralization.

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Viral / immunology*
  • Antibody Specificity
  • Epitopes / chemistry
  • Epitopes / immunology*
  • Flavivirus / immunology*
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Monte Carlo Method
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Stochastic Processes


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Epitopes