Programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) is a key immune regulatory protein that interacts with programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1), leading to T-cell suppression. Whilst this interaction is key in self-tolerance, cancer cells evade the immune system by overexpressing PD-L1. Inhibition of the PD-1/PD-L1 pathway with standard monoclonal antibodies has proven a highly effective cancer treatment; however, single domain antibodies (VHH) may offer numerous potential benefits. Here, we report the identification and characterization of a diverse panel of 16 novel VHHs specific to PD-L1. The panel of VHHs demonstrate affinities of 0.7 nM to 5.1 μM and were able to completely inhibit PD-1 binding to PD-L1. The binding site for each VHH on PD-L1 was determined using NMR chemical shift perturbation mapping and revealed a common binding surface encompassing the PD-1-binding site. Additionally, we solved crystal structures of two representative VHHs in complex with PD-L1, which revealed unique binding modes. Similar NMR experiments were used to identify the binding site of CD80 on PD-L1, which is another immune response regulatory element and interacts with PD-L1 localized on the same cell surface. CD80 and PD-1 were revealed to share a highly overlapping binding site on PD-L1, with the panel of VHHs identified expected to inhibit CD80 binding. Comparison of the CD80 and PD-1 binding sites on PD-L1 enabled the identification of a potential antibody binding region able to confer specificity for the inhibition of PD-1 binding only, which may offer therapeutic benefits to counteract cancer cell evasion of the immune system.
Keywords: Cluster of differentiation 80; cancer; immunoglobulin-like domain; immunotherapy; phage display; programmed cell death protein 1; programmed death-ligand 1; single-domain antibody (sdAb, nanobody).
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