Human interleukin-23 receptor antagonists derived from an albumin-binding domain scaffold inhibit IL-23-dependent ex vivo expansion of IL-17-producing T-cells



Engineered combinatorial libraries derived from small protein scaffolds represent a powerful tool for generating novel binders with high affinity, required specificity and designed inhibitory function. This work was aimed to generate a collection of recombinant binders of human interleukin-23 receptor (IL-23R), which is a key element of proinflammatory IL-23-mediated signaling. A library of variants derived from the three-helix bundle scaffold of the albumin-binding domain (ABD) of streptococcal protein G and ribosome display were used to select for high-affinity binders of recombinant extracellular IL-23R. A collection of 34 IL-23R-binding proteins (called REX binders), corresponding to 18 different sequence variants, was used to identify a group of ligands that inhibited binding of the recombinant p19 subunit of IL-23, or the biologically active human IL-23 cytokine, to the recombinant IL-23R or soluble IL-23R-IgG chimera. The strongest competitors for IL-23R binding in ELISA were confirmed to recognize human IL-23R-IgG in surface plasmon resonance experiments, estimating the binding affinity in the sub- to nanomolar range. We further demonstrated that several REX variants bind to human leukemic cell lines K-562, THP-1 and Jurkat, and this binding correlated with IL-23R cell-surface expression. The REX125, REX009 and REX128 variants competed with the p19 protein for binding to THP-1 cells. Moreover, the presence of REX125, REX009 and REX115 variants significantly inhibited the IL-23-driven expansion of IL-17-producing primary human CD4+ T-cells. Thus, we conclude that unique IL-23R antagonists derived from the ABD scaffold were generated that might be useful in designing novel anti-inflammatory biologicals. Proteins 2014; 82:975–989. © 2013 The Authors. Proteins: Structure, Function, and Bioinformatics Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.