Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Irvine

UC Irvine Previously Published Works bannerUC Irvine

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


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.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View