High-throughput ligand discovery reveals a sitewise gradient of diversity in broadly evolved hydrophilic fibronectin domains

Daniel R. Woldring, Patrick V. Holec, Hong Zhou, Benjamin J. Hackel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Discovering new binding function via a combinatorial library in small protein scaffolds requires balance between appropriate mutations to introduce favorable intermolecular interactions while maintaining intramolecular integrity. Sitewise constraints exist in a non-spatial gradient from diverse to conserved in evolved antibody repertoires; yet non-antibody scaffolds generally do not implement this strategy in combinatorial libraries. Despite the fact that biased amino acid distributions, typically elevated in tyrosine, serine, and glycine, have gained wider use in synthetic scaffolds, these distributions are still predominantly applied uniformly to diversified sites. While select sites in fibronectin domains and DARPins have shown benefit from sitewise designs, they have not been deeply evaluated. Inspired by this disparity between diversity distributions in natural libraries and synthetic scaffold libraries, we hypothesized that binders resulting from discovery and evolution would exhibit a nonspatial, sitewise gradient of amino acid diversity. To identify sitewise diversities consistent with efficient evolution in the context of a hydrophilic fibronectin domain, >105 binders to six targets were evolved and sequenced. Evolutionarily favorable amino acid distributions at 25 sites reveal Shannon entropies (range: 0.3-3.9; median: 2.1; standard deviation: 1.1) supporting the diversity gradient hypothesis. Sitewise constraints in evolved sequences are consistent with complementarity, stability, and consensus biases. Implementation of sitewise constrained diversity enables direct selection of nanomolar affinity binders validating an efficient strategy to balance inter- and intra-molecular interaction demands at each site.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0138956
JournalPloS one
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 18 2015

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