Llama VHH as immunotherapeutics in Alzheimer's disease

B. Dorresteijn

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


Alzheimer's Disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia among elderly in the Western world. AD is a devastating neurodegenerative disease where patients starting with episodic memory problems end up completely bedridden and care dependent. At present there is no real therapy stopping or reversing AD progression. Roughly 100 years ago Alois Alzheimer described the deposition of amyloid-beta (Aβ) in post-mortem brains, one of the hallmarks of AD. Since this description AD has had great attention. However, the exact mechanism of AD remains unclear, a general consensus is reached over Aβ as a peptide involved in AD progression. Aβ is derived from amyloid-beta precursor protein (APP) by the proteolytic cleavage activity of beta-secretase BACE1. Interesting, next to AD patients, healthy individuals also produce Aβ in their brain. So next to the production and presence of Aβ, an extra mechanism is in place to exert toxicity and therefore AD progression. The hydrophobic nature of Aβ makes this peptide prone to aggregate. Overwhelming evidence point to an aggregated form of Aβ (oligomer) as the culprit of toxicity. This makes aggregation of Aβ the mechanism responsible for the generation of toxic Aβ species. Members from the Camelidae family possess, next to conventional IgGs, a heavy chain only antibody. The antigen-binding domain of this antibody (VHH) is fully function while being about ten times smaller compared to a conventional antibody. Next to size, VHH have several other benefits like stability, production costs and genetic modulation. Next to that, VHH are found that inhibit protein aggregation and enzyme activity. We exploited the capability of VHH to inhibit protein aggregation by selecting and generation VHH against Aβ. Llamas were immunized with patient material containing severe Aβ deposition. The subsequently generated VHH library yielded one VHH that inhibits aggregation, and reduced Aβ toxicity. Mutation studies and an additional crystal structure led to the hypothesis that this VHH binds to a small aggregated form of Aβ. A secondary strategy to prevent Aβ toxicity is to inhibit Aβ production by targeting BACE1. We selected a VHH that inhibits BACE1 activity in vitro and in vivo. The in vivo pilot experiment showed a reduced concentration of Aβ and therefore might be of therapeutical value. Problematic is the delivery of compounds to the brain due to the blood brain barrier (BBB). We provided a proof of principle to deliver compounds over cell layers that were BBB models. Transferrin Receptor (TfR) was used to piggy bag an anti-TfR covalently coupled to an anti-Aβ over the cell layer. The aim of this thesis was to find VHH against Ab targets and characterize these VHH. We made great progress in characterizing VHH G7 in vitro and explain characteristics needed for aggregation and toxicity inhibition. Besides this we found a VHH inhibiting BACE1 activity in vitro and in vivo providing a secondary therapeutic strategy for AD. Furthermore, proof of principle is provided to deliver compounds over cellular monolayers modeling the blood brain barrier.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Verrips, C.T., Primary supervisor
  • el Khattabi, M., Co-supervisor
Award date28 Jan 2013
Place of PublicationUtrecht
Print ISBNs978-90-393-5892-4
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jan 2013


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