Mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 neutralization by shark variable new antigen receptors elucidated through X-ray crystallography

Obinna C. Ubah, Eric W. Lake, Gihan S Gunaratne, Joseph Gallant, Marie Fernie, Austin J. Robertson, Jonathan S Marchant, Tyler D Bold, Ryan A. Langlois, Will Matchett, Joshua Thiede, Ke Shi, Lulu Yin, Nicholas H Moeller, Surajit Banerjee, Laura Ferguson, Marina Kovaleva, Andrew J. Porter, Hideki Aihara, Aaron LeBeauCaroline J. Barelle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Single-domain Variable New Antigen Receptors (VNARs) from the immune system of sharks are the smallest naturally occurring binding domains found in nature. Possessing flexible paratopes that can recognize protein motifs inaccessible to classical antibodies, VNARs have yet to be exploited for the development of SARS-CoV-2 therapeutics. Here, we detail the identification of a series of VNARs from a VNAR phage display library screened against the SARS-CoV-2 receptor binding domain (RBD). The ability of the VNARs to neutralize pseudotype and authentic live SARS-CoV-2 virus rivalled or exceeded that of full-length immunoglobulins and other single-domain antibodies. Crystallographic analysis of two VNARs found that they recognized separate epitopes on the RBD and had distinctly different mechanisms of virus neutralization unique to VNARs. Structural and biochemical data suggest that VNARs would be effective therapeutic agents against emerging SARS-CoV-2 mutants, including the Delta variant, and coronaviruses across multiple phylogenetic lineages. This study highlights the utility of VNARs as effective therapeutics against coronaviruses and may serve as a critical milestone for nearing a paradigm shift of the greater biologic landscape.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number7325
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Chief Scientist Office, Scottish Government, Grant COV/ABN/20/01 (Elasmogen, Ltd.), a 2018 Prostate Cancer Foundation Challenge Award (AML), a 2013 Prostate Cancer Foundation Young Investigator Award (AML), NCI R01s CA237272, CA233562, and CA245922 (AML). WEM was supported by the NIH T32 HL007741 and JMT by the NIH T32 AI055433. JSM was funded by NIGMS R01 GM088790. HA was funded by NIGMS R35 GM118047 and NCI P01 CA234228. X-ray diffraction data were collected at the Northeastern Collaborative Access Team beamlines, which are funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIGMS P30 GM124165). The Pilatus 6M detector on 24-ID-C beamline is funded by a NIH-ORIP HEI grant (S10 RR029205). We thank the Marco Pravetoni lab for providing training and access to the OctetRED96e for BLI experiments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


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