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Gastrobodies Are Engineered Antibody Mimetics Resilient To Pepsin And Hydrochloric Acid

Niels Wicke, Mike R. Bedford, Mark Howarth

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AbstractProtein-based targeting reagents, such as antibodies and non-antibody scaffold proteins, are rapidly inactivated in the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Hydrochloric acid in gastric juice denatures proteins and activates pepsin, concentrations of which reach 1 mg/mL in the mammalian stomach. Two stable scaffold proteins (nanobody and nanofitin), previously developed to be protease-resistant, were completely digested in less than 10 min at 100-fold lower concentration of pepsin than found in the stomach. Here we present gastrobodies, a protein scaffold derived from Kunitz soybean trypsin inhibitor (SBTI). SBTI is highly resistant to the challenges of the upper GI tract, including digestive proteases, pH 2 and bile acids. Computational prediction of SBTI’s evolvability identified two nearby loops for randomization, to create a potential recognition surface which was experimentally validated by alanine scanning. We established display of SBTI on full-length pIII of M13 phage. Phage selection of gastrobody libraries against the glucosyltransferase domain of Clostridium difficile toxin B (GTD) identified hits with nanomolar affinity and enzyme inhibitory activity. Anti-GTD binders retained high stability to acid, digestive proteases and heat. Gastrobodies show resilience to exceptionally harsh conditions, which should provide a foundation for targeting and modulating function within the GI tract.