Structural models of antibody variable fragments: A method for investigating binding mechanisms

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The value of comparative molecular modeling for elucidating structure-function relationships was demonstrated by analyzing six anti-nucleosome autoantibody variable fragments. Structural models were built using the automated procedure developed in the COMPOSER software, subsequently minimized with the AMBER force field, and validated according to several standard geometric and chemical criteria. Canonical class assignment from Chothia and Lesk's [Chottin and Lesk, J. Mol. Biol., 196 (1987) 901; Chothia et al., Nature, 342 (1989) 877] work was used as a supplementary validation tool for five of the six hypervariable loops. The analysis, based on the hypothesis that antigen binding could occur through electrostatic interactions, reveals a diversity of possible binding mechanisms of anti-nucleosome or anti-histone antibodies to their cognate antigen. These results lead us to postulate that anti-nucleosome autoantibodies could have different origins. Since both anti-DNA and anti-nculeosome autoantibodies are produced during the course of systemic lupus erythematosus, a non-organ specific autoimmune disease, a comparative structural and electrostatic analysis of the two populations of autoantibodies may constitute a way to elucidate their origin and the role of the antigen in tolerance breakdown. The present study illustrates some interests, advantages and limits of a methodology based on the use of comparative modeling and analysis of molecular surface properties.

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