Development of a strategy and computational application to select candidate protein analogues with reduced HLA binding and immunogenicity

Immunology. 2018 Jan;153(1):118-132. doi: 10.1111/imm.12816. Epub 2017 Sep 28.


Unwanted immune responses against protein therapeutics can reduce efficacy or lead to adverse reactions. T-cell responses are key in the development of such responses, and are directed against immunodominant regions within the protein sequence, often associated with binding to several allelic variants of HLA class II molecules (promiscuous binders). Herein, we report a novel computational strategy to predict 'de-immunized' peptides, based on previous studies of erythropoietin protein immunogenicity. This algorithm (or method) first predicts promiscuous binding regions within the target protein sequence and then identifies residue substitutions predicted to reduce HLA binding. Further, this method anticipates the effect of any given substitution on flanking peptides, thereby circumventing the creation of nascent HLA-binding regions. As a proof-of-principle, the algorithm was applied to Vatreptacog α, an engineered Factor VII molecule associated with unintended immunogenicity. The algorithm correctly predicted the two immunogenic peptides containing the engineered residues. As a further validation, we selected and evaluated the immunogenicity of seven substitutions predicted to simultaneously reduce HLA binding for both peptides, five control substitutions with no predicted reduction in HLA-binding capacity, and additional flanking region controls. In vitro immunogenicity was detected in 21·4% of the cultures of peptides predicted to have reduced HLA binding and 11·4% of the flanking regions, compared with 46% for the cultures of the peptides predicted to be immunogenic. This method has been implemented as an interactive application, freely available online at

Keywords: MHC/HLA; T cell; antigen/peptides/epitopes; bioinformatics; regulation/suppression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Amino Acid Substitution
  • Carrier Proteins / immunology*
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism*
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Epitope Mapping / methods*
  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte / chemistry
  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte / immunology*
  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte / metabolism*
  • Erythropoietin / chemistry
  • Erythropoietin / immunology
  • Erythropoietin / metabolism
  • HLA Antigens / genetics
  • HLA Antigens / immunology*
  • HLA Antigens / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Immunodominant Epitopes / immunology
  • Immunodominant Epitopes / metabolism
  • Protein Binding / immunology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Software
  • User-Computer Interface


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte
  • HLA Antigens
  • Immunodominant Epitopes
  • Erythropoietin