Multivalent Ligand Binding to Cell Membrane Antigens: Defining the Interplay of Affinity, Valency, and Expression Density

J Am Chem Soc. 2019 Jan 9;141(1):251-261. doi: 10.1021/jacs.8b09198. Epub 2018 Dec 17.


Nature uses multivalency to govern many biological processes. The development of macromolecular and cellular therapies has largely been dependent on engineering similar polyvalent interactions to enable effective targeting. Such therapeutics typically utilize high-affinity binding domains that have the propensity to recognize both antigen-overexpressing tumors and normal-expressing tissues, leading to "on-target, off-tumor" toxicities. One strategy to improve these agents' selectivity is to reduce the binding affinity, such that biologically relevant interactions between the therapeutic and target cell will only exist under conditions of high avidity. Preclinical studies have validated this principle of avidity optimization in the context of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells; however, a rigorous analysis of this approach in the context of soluble multivalent targeting scaffolds has yet to be undertaken. Using a modular protein nanoring capable of displaying ≤8 fibronectin domains with engineered specificity for a model antigen, epithelial cell adhesion molecule (EpCAM), this study demonstrates that binding affinity and ligand valency can be optimized to afford discrimination between EpCAMHigh (2.8-3.8 × 106 antigens/cell) and EpCAMLow (5.2 × 104 to 2.2 × 105 antigens/cell) tissues both in vitro and in vivo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Protein Binding
  • Substrate Specificity
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule
  • Ligands