Communication pathways bridge local and global conformations in an IgG4 antibody

Sci Rep. 2021 Dec 1;11(1):23197. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-02323-x.


The affinity of an antibody for its antigen is primarily determined by the specific sequence and structural arrangement of the complementarity-determining regions (CDRs). Recent evidence, however, points toward a nontrivial relation between the CDR and distal sites: variations in the binding strengths have been observed upon mutating residues separated from the paratope by several nanometers, thus suggesting the existence of a communication network within antibodies, whose extension and relevance might be deeper than insofar expected. In this work, we test this hypothesis by means of molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of the IgG4 monoclonal antibody pembrolizumab, an approved drug that targets the programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1). The molecule is simulated in both the apo and holo states, totalling 4 μs of MD trajectory. The analysis of these simulations shows that the bound antibody explores a restricted range of conformations with respect to the apo one, and that the global conformation of the molecule correlates with that of the CDR. These results support the hypothesis that pembrolizumab featues a multi-scale hierarchy of intertwined global and local conformational changes. The analysis pipeline developed in this work is general, and it can help shed further light on the mechanistic aspects of antibody function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / chemistry*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / immunology
  • Complementarity Determining Regions
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / chemistry*
  • Immunoglobulin G / immunology
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor / immunology
  • Protein Conformation


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Complementarity Determining Regions
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor
  • pembrolizumab