There is a need for techniques capable of identifying the antigenic epitopes targeted by polyclonal antibody responses during deliberate or natural immunization. Although successful, traditional phage library screening is laborious and can map only some of the epitopes. To accelerate and improve epitope identification, we have employed massive sequencing of phage-displayed antigen-specific libraries using the Illumina MiSeq platform. This enabled us to precisely identify the regions of a model antigen, the meningococcal NadA virulence factor, targeted by serum antibodies in vaccinated individuals and to rank hundreds of antigenic fragments according to their immunoreactivity. We found that next generation sequencing can significantly empower the analysis of antigen-specific libraries by allowing simultaneous processing of dozens of library/serum combinations in less than two days, including the time required for antibody-mediated library selection. Moreover, compared with traditional plaque picking, the new technology (named Phage-based Representation OF Immuno-Ligand Epitope Repertoire or PROFILER) provides superior resolution in epitope identification. PROFILER seems ideally suited to streamline and guide rational antigen design, adjuvant selection, and quality control of newly produced vaccines. Furthermore, this method is also susceptible to find important applications in other fields covered by traditional quantitative serology.
Chinappi, Mauro; Via, Allegra; Marcatili, Paolo; Tramontano, Anna(PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science (PLoS), 2010-11-19)[Article]
Resistance to chloroquine of malaria strains is known to be associated with a parasite protein named PfCRT, the mutated form of which is able to reduce chloroquine accumulation in the digestive vacuole of the pathogen. Whether the protein mediates extrusion of the drug acting as a channel or as a carrier and which is the protonation state of its chloroquine substrate is the subject of a scientific debate. We present here an analytical approach that explores which combination of hypotheses on the mechanism of transport and the protonation state of chloroquine are consistent with available equilibrium experimental data. We show that the available experimental data are not, by themselves, sufficient to conclude whether the protein acts as a channel or as a transporter, which explains the origin of their different interpretation by different authors. Interestingly, though, each of the two models is only consistent with a subset of hypotheses on the protonation state of the transported molecule. The combination of these results with a sequence and structure analysis of PfCRT, which strongly suggests that the molecule is a carrier, indicates that the transported species is either or both the mono and di-protonated forms of chloroquine. We believe that our results, besides shedding light on the mechanism of chloroquine resistance in P. falciparum, have implications for the development of novel therapies against resistant malaria strains and demonstrate the usefulness of an approach combining systems biology strategies with structural bioinformatics and experimental data.
Sayadi, Ahmed; Briganti, Leonardo; Tramontano, Anna; Via, Allegra(PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science (PLoS), 2011-07-20)[Article]
The function of proteins is often mediated by short linear segments of their amino acid sequence, called Short Linear Motifs or SLiMs, the identification of which can provide important information about a protein function. However, the short length of the motifs and their variable degree of conservation makes their identification hard since it is difficult to correctly estimate the statistical significance of their occurrence. Consequently, only a small fraction of them have been discovered so far. We describe here an approach for the discovery of SLiMs based on their occurrence in evolutionarily unrelated proteins belonging to the same biological, signalling or metabolic pathway and give specific examples of its effectiveness in both rediscovering known motifs and in discovering novel ones. An automatic implementation of the procedure, available for download, allows significant motifs to be identified, automatically annotated with functional, evolutionary and structural information and organized in a database that can be inspected and queried. An instance of the database populated with pre-computed data on seven organisms is accessible through a publicly available server and we believe it constitutes by itself a useful resource for the life sciences (http://www.biocomputing.it/modipath).
Sánchez Claros, Carmen; Tramontano, Anna(PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science (PLoS), 2012-06-08)[Article]
Comprehensive protein interaction maps can complement genetic and biochemical experiments and allow the formulation of new hypotheses to be tested in the system of interest. The computational analysis of the maps may help to focus on interesting cases and thereby to appropriately prioritize the validation experiments. We show here that, by automatically comparing and analyzing structurally similar regions of proteins of known structure interacting with a common partner, it is possible to identify mutually exclusive interactions present in the maps with a sensitivity of 70% and a specificity higher than 85% and that, in about three fourth of the correctly identified complexes, we also correctly recognize at least one residue (five on average) belonging to the interaction interface. Given the present and continuously increasing number of proteins of known structure, the requirement of the knowledge of the structure of the interacting proteins does not substantially impact on the coverage of our strategy that can be estimated to be around 25%. We also introduce here the Estrella server that embodies this strategy, is designed for users interested in validating specific hypotheses about the functional role of a protein-protein interaction and it also allows access to pre-computed data for seven organisms.
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