Differential scanning calorimetry and spectroscopic probes were applied to study folding and stability of the single-chain Fv fragment (scFv) of the anti-human ferritin antibody F11 and its isolated variable light-chain (V(L)) domain. The scFv fragment followed variable heavy-chain domain (V(H))-linker-V(L) orientation and contained (Gly4Ser)3 linker peptide. The two proteins were produced in Escherichia coli and refolded from denaturant-solubilized inclusion bodies. The isolated V(L) domain demonstrated a typical immunoglobulin fold with well-defined secondary and tertiary structure and was capable of binding human ferritin with K(a) = 1.8 x 107 M-1, ~1/30 of the affinity of the parent F11 antibody. Involvement of this V(L) domain into the two-domain scFv fragment yielded a distorted secondary and significantly destabilized tertiary structure in which neither of the two constituent domains attained complete folding. The thermal unfolding enthalpy of scFv F11 at pH 7.0 was as low as 5.0 J·g-1 versus 16.3 J·g-1 obtained for the V(L) domain and 24.7 J·g-1 for the parent F11 antibody (mouse IgG2a subclass). Intrinsic fluorescence and near-ultraviolet circular dichroic (CD) spectra, and binding of the hydrophobic probe 8- anilino-1-naphthalene sulfonate, confirmed partial loss of tertiary interactions in scFv. The spectroscopic and calorimetric properties of scFv F11 under physiological conditions are consistent with a model of a partially structured state with a distorted β-sheet as a secondary structure and partial loss of tertiary interactions, which closely resembles the alternatively folded A-state adopted by an immunoglobulin at pH 2-3 [Buchner, J., Renner, M., Lilie, H., Hinz, H.J., Jaenicke, R., Kiefhaber, T., and Rudolph, R. (1991) Biochemistry 30, 6922 - 6929]. However, ScFV F11 demonstrated only an ~4-fold decrease in the antigen-binding affinity (K(a) = 1.3 x 108 M-1) versus the parent F11 antibody. The scFv fragment F11 provides the first description of a functional protein trapped under physiological conditions in a partially structured state. This state is either close to the native one in the antigen-binding affinity or, alternatively, initial weak binding of the antigenic epitope induces folding of ScFv F11 into a more structured conformation that generates relatively high affinity.
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