Arginine to lysine mutations increase the aggregation stability of a single chain variable fragment through unfolded state interactions

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • External authors:
  • Angela Thistlethwaite
  • Karl Fisher
  • Reza Esfandiary
  • Christopher F van der Walle
  • Jim Warwicker


Increased protein solubility is known to correlate with an increase in the proportion of lysine over arginine residues. Previous work has shown that the aggregation propensity of a single-chain variable fragment (scFv) does not correlate with its conformational stability or native-state protein-protein interactions. Here we test the hypothesis that aggregation is driven by the colloidal stability of partially unfolded states, studying the behaviour of scFv mutants harbouring single or multiple site-specific arginine/lysine mutations in denaturing buffers. In 6 M guanidine hydrochloride (GdmCl) or 8 M urea, repulsive protein-protein interactions were measured for the wild-type and lysine enriched (4RK) scFvs on account of weakened short-ranged attractions and increased excluded volume, in contrast to the arginine enriched (7KR) scFv which demonstrated strong reversible association. In 3 M GdmCl, the minimum concentration at which the scFvs were unfolded, the hydrodynamic radius of 4RK remained constant but increased for the wild-type and especially for 7KR. Individually swapping lysine back to arginine in 4KR indicated that the observed aggregation propensity of arginine in denaturing conditions was non-specific. Interestingly, one such swap generated a scFv with especially low aggregation rates under low/high ionic strength and denaturing buffers; molecular modelling identified hydrogen-bonding between the arginine side chain and main chain peptide groups, stabilising the structure. The arginine/lysine ratio is not routinely considered in biopharmaceutical scaffold design, or current amyloid prediction methods. This work therefore suggests a simple method to increase the stability of a biopharmaceutical protein against aggregation.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Early online date17 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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