Probing the structure and function of the protease domain of botulinum neurotoxins using single-domain antibodies.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


PLoS Pathog, Volume 18, Issue 1, p.e1010169 (2022)


<p>Botulinum neurotoxins (BoNTs) are among the deadliest of bacterial toxins. BoNT serotype A and B in particular pose the most serious threat to humans because of their high potency and persistence. To date, there is no effective treatment for late post-exposure therapy of botulism patients. Here, we aim to develop single-domain variable heavy-chain (VHH) antibodies targeting the protease domains (also known as the light chain, LC) of BoNT/A and BoNT/B as antidotes for post-intoxication treatments. Using a combination of X-ray crystallography and biochemical assays, we investigated the structures and inhibition mechanisms of a dozen unique VHHs that recognize four and three non-overlapping epitopes on the LC of BoNT/A and BoNT/B, respectively. We show that the VHHs that inhibit the LC activity occupy the extended substrate-recognition exosites or the cleavage pocket of LC/A or LC/B and thus block substrate binding. Notably, we identified several VHHs that recognize highly conserved epitopes across BoNT/A or BoNT/B subtypes, suggesting that these VHHs exhibit broad subtype efficacy. Further, we identify two novel conformations of the full-length LC/A, that could aid future development of inhibitors against BoNT/A. Our studies lay the foundation for structure-based engineering of protein- or peptide-based BoNT inhibitors with enhanced potencies and cross-subtypes properties.</p>

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