Advances in Bioscience and Biotechnology, 2011, 2, 85-88 ABB
doi:10.4236/abb.2011.22013 Published Online April 2011 (
Published Online April 2011 in SciRes.
Preparation of monospecific anti-PAG antibodies for cattle
pregnancy detection: use of synthetic peptides to improve
Jimena Inés Ruiz Álvarez, Juan Manuel Teijeiro, Patricia Estela Marini*
Instituto de Biología Molecular y Celular de Rosario, IBR-CONICET and Facultad de Ciencias Bioquímicas y Farmacéuticas,
Universidad Nacional de Rosario, Rosario, Argentina.
Received 16 February 2011; revised 7 April 2011; accepted 10 April 2011.
Immunological methods involving pregnancy associ-
ated glycoproteins (PAG) are used for cattle preg-
nancy detection. The faults of these methods could
be overcome by using antibodies specific for each
member of the PAG family. In order to differentiate
between very similar proteins, preparation of anti-
bodies specific for peptides is a method of choice. In
this work, we summarize a series of considerations
regarding peptide design and choose free access
NCBI, Antigenicity Plot, EMBOSS Antigenic and
Expasy tools to apply them. We design peptides spe-
cific for different reported PAG members and obtain
the corresponding polyclonal antibodies for five of
Keywords: Anti-peptide; Antibodies; Pregnancy; Cattle
Diagnosis of pregnancy and prompt re-enlistment of
‘‘non-pregnant’’ cattle into an appropriate reproduction
protocol are essential components of successful breeding
programs. Thus, early and accurate pregnancy detection
is prompted and several systems that use proteins from
the pregnancy associated glycoprotein (PAG) family
have been developed [1]. This family can be separated in
two groups, one of which is expressed only in tropho-
blastic binucleated cells, being its members detectable as
a group in maternal blood from the time of implantation.
The concentration of this group of proteins increases
steadily in plasma, peaks b efore parturition, and remains
detectable for 2 - 3 months after calving [2]. Immu-
nological reactions involving PAGs have been used to
design commercial kits for pregnancy detection [3], for
review see [4]. Variations on detection between methods
are significant and may be attributed to the quality of the
anti-PAG antibodies used for each assay [4]. Anti-PAG
antibodies have been developed using PAG preparations
purified from placenta, which contain various PAG
members, or whole PAG proteins as immunogenic mate-
rial. Even when monoclonal antibodies are used, several
members of the PAG family may be recognized by these
antibodies, as PAGs may share the recognized epitope.
Sensitivity and specificity of methods using radioim-
munoassay were improved by the use of heterologous
anti-PAG antibodies [3] and of monoclonal antibodies
that recognize only a few members of the PAG family
[5]. Persistence of some members of the PAG group
pos-partum also limits the use of the currently existing
methods. As different members of PAG have distinct
temporal expression [2], the development of antibodies
specific for them could help improve the currently ex-
isting techniques. Also, as different PAGs have distinct
half lives not all the members of the family persist in
pos-partum serum, thus the use of antibodies that distin-
guish between PAGs could permit accurate pos-partum
pregnancy detection. The same would apply to the de-
tection of wastage. The objective of this work is to de-
velop antibodies against peptides unique to different
members of the PAG family, which would presumably
be specific for one reported PAG.
Anti-pep tide antibodies may be obtained using recom-
binant proteins [6] or synthetic peptides coupled to car-
rier proteins [7] as antigens. The production of antibodies
using synthetic peptides allows the recognition of spe-
cific regions of proteins and is often found advantageous
for diagnostic purposes. The selection of the peptide se-
quence is essential for the immunization of the recipient
organism and for the future detection of the protein or
domain in its native form. In this work, free access
NCBI, Antigenicity Plot, EMBOSS Antigenic and Ex-
pasy tools are used for antigenic peptide sequences se-
J. I. R. Álvarez et al. / Advances in Bioscience and Biotechnology 2 (2011) 85-88
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. ABB
2.1. Peptide Design
Uniqueness: The sequences of the 22 reported bovine
PAGs were taken from the NCBI database [8] and
aligned using MultAlin5.4.1. [9]. As in order to consti-
tute an epitope a peptide must be at list 6 amin oacids (aa)
long (3000 - 5000 Da) [7 ], unique sequen ces at least 8 aa
long were chosen in this work, to assure immunogenicity.
As only the 13 PAGs expressed exclusively in tro-
phoblastic binucleated cells are candidates to be found in
serum in posterior use, peptides were selected only for
them (Figure 1, bold) [2]. The antibodies must recog-
nize only the selected peptide in the context in which
they will be used, thus chosen sequences need to be ab-
sent not only from other PAGs but also from other serum
proteins. The BLASTp option of the NCBI database was
used to search for the possible presence of the peptides
in other proteins reported on the non redundant (nr) Bos
taurus proteins database, which considers translated as
well as determined protein sequences. This led to the
elimination of 39 of the 90 considered peptides (Figure 1,
Antigenicity: The characteristics of the aa contained in
a peptide determine its antigenicity in the context of the
protein, where it must be recognized. From the different
possible criteria, two antigenicity prediction programs
were used: Antigenicity Plot [10], a tool that computes
and plots the antigenicity along a polypeptide chain, as
predicted by an algorith m; and EMBOSS Antigen ic [11],
which predicts potentially antigenic regions of a protein
sequence considering experimental data. Nine peptides
resulted non antigenic by any of the tools, and were not
furthered analyzed.
Exposure: In order to be detected in the native protein,
a peptide must be exposed in its surface. Four highly
variable domains which are exposed in surface loops
have been reported for PAGs [12]. Twentyseven of the
considered peptides are present in these domains, and
were selected for further analysis.
Posttranslational modifica tion: If the peptide used for
antibody preparatio n is mod ified in th e native p rotein the
antibodies developed against it might be unable to detect
it in its context. Possible posttranslationa l modifications
Figure 1. Alignment of the 13 bovine PAGs of probable early expression during pregnancy. Candidate peptides se-
lected based on length and uniqueness on the PAG family are showed in bold. Peptides eliminated because of their
homology to other bovine proteins are underlined. The five peptides used for antibody obtainment are highlighted and
named underneath.
J. I. R. Álvarez et al. / Advances in Bioscience and Biotechnology 2 (2011) 85-88
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. ABB
and signal peptides in the protein were analyzed using
the whole protein sequences with the Expasy tools [13]:
NetNGlyc (N-glycosylation), YingOYang (O-beta-
GlcNAc attachment), NetGlycate (glycation of epsilon
amino groups of lysines), NetCGlyc (C-mannosylation),
NetPhos (phosphorylation), SignalP from NetNglyc
(signal peptides). Posttranslational modifications were
predicted for eleven candidate peptides and none of the
peptides under study so far were predicted to be part of a
signal sequence.
Synthesis: Difficulties in peptide synthesis compro-
mise the purity of the product, with an augment of con-
taminating peptides. Peptide Calculator [14] was used to
estimate peptide synthesis capability and solubility, 1
peptide was discarded.
2.2. Antibody Production
From the 15 peptides chosen, 5 (Figure 1) were syn-
thezised by GenBiotech, Argentina. The peptides were
coupled to rabbit serum albumin using 3-Maleimido-
benzoic acid N-hydroxysuccinimide ester (MBS) [7].
MBS (25 mg/ml) was first linked to the peptides (5
mg/ml) and afterwards to the carrier (10 mg/ml) in order
to favor linkage by the amino-terminal group of the pep-
tide. Coupling efficiency was tested by filtrating the re-
action mix through Millipore Centricon® Centrifugal
Filter Units (cut-off 10 kDa) (Millipore, Bedford, MA,
USA) followed by peptide concentration determination
of the filtrate using a QuBit devise (GE Healthware).
The efficiency was stated as coupled peptide (used mi-
nus filtered)/total peptide (used) and was between 80%
and 85% in every case.
Four New Zealand rabbits (one rabbit per peptide)
were immunized by four subcutaneous injections of 250
g peptide with equal amounts of adjuvant. Samples
were taken 30, 60 and 9 0 days after the first boost.
2.3. Antibodi es Quality Analysis
The presence and peptide specificity of antibodies was
analyzed by dot blot, immobilizing the peptides (10 g)
and fetuin (10 g), used as specificity control for pro-
teins in general, on PVDF membranes (Hybond-P, GE
Placenta from 50 - 70 days pregnant cows and muscle
samples were obtained at a local abattoir and tran sported
to the laboratory on ice. Protein extracts were prepared
by homogenizing cubic pieces (2 cm each side) of tissue
in 5 ml of 20 mM Tris-HCl pH 7.6, 2 mM EDTA, 1 mM
PMSF with Omnimixer Homogenizer (Omni Interna-
tional, Waterbury, CT, USA), followed by centrifugation
at 27,000 xg for 1 hour. Protein extracts were used for
native PAGE and blotted to PVDF membranes.
Antibodies were labeled with biotin using biotinylat-
ing reagent EZ-Link® Sulfo-NHS-SS-Biotin according
to the supplier’s instructions (Pierce, Thermo Scientific,
Rockford, IL, USA). PVDF membranes were blocked
overnight with 1% gelatin in TTBS buffer, which con-
sisted of 20 mM Tris-HCl, pH 7.6, 150 mM NaCl, 0.1%
v/v Tween 20, followed by two 5 min washes with TTBS.
After incubation with the indicated dilution of anti-pep-
tide antibody for 1 h, membranes were wash ed t wice wi t h
TTBS for 10 min and treated with 1:8000 dilution in
TTBS of 1 mg/ml of peroxidase-conjugated streptavidin
during 1 h at room temperature. After three washes with
TTBS and one with TBS (TTBS without Tween 20),
peroxidase activity was revealed using enhanced chemi-
luminescence detection wit h SuperSig nal R WestPico Che-
miluminiscent Substrate, Thermo Scientific, USA, ac-
cording to manufacturer’s instructions. Controls without
anti-peptide antibodies and using pre-immunization sera
were done. These showed no signal for dot blots and for
western blots (data not sh ow n ).
In order to obtain antibodies specific for different PAGs
we aimed to establish a method to select exclusive and
highly antigenic peptides for each of them, and develop
the corresponding antibodies using chemically synthe-
sized peptides. Most often, peptide exclusiveness is the
only item considered for peptide design. We listed a se-
ries of considerations to be made in peptide sequence
selection in order to augment the possibility for them to
impress the immunological system of the animal in
which the antibodies will be developed and to produce
antibodies capable of recognizing the peptide in the na-
tive protein upon further use. Our simple guidelines use
NCBI, Antigenicity Plot, EMBOSS Antigenic and Ex-
pasy tools, chosen from the free access available ones.
To test the designed peptides we selected five of them,
corresponding to different PAGs, had them synthesized,
coupled them to a carrier protein and used them for an-
tibody development in rabbits by our custom protocol,
which is based on [7]. The presence of antibodies was
analyzed by dot-blot, obtaining positive reaction in every
case (Figure 2(a)); the corresponding controls: fetuin,
assays without primary antibod y and pre- immune seru m,
gave no signal. Do t-blot assays were done to analyze th e
possibility of crossed peptide detection showing each
serum recognized exclusively the peptide used to pro-
duce it, indicating specificity (Figure 2(b)).
To analyze reco gnitio n of the p eptides in th eir con text,
western blots of placenta native protein extracts (50 - 70
days post-insemination) were done, the results obtained
using anti-PAG18 are shown (Figure 3). For anti-PAG18,
two protein bands are detected in placenta that are not
seen when analysis is performed with pre-immune serum
J. I. R. Álvarez et al. / Advances in Bioscience and Biotechnology 2 (2011) 85-88
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. ABB
Figure 2. Specificity of anti-peptide antibodies. (a) Dot-blots
of the named peptides and fetuin (10 g each), as a negative
control, in PVDF membranes with the corresponding antibod-
ies. Dilutions are noted at the bottom; (b) A representative
dot-blot of five analyzed peptides with one of the developed
antibodies (anti-18.2).
Figure 3. Recognition of peptides in the
native protein. A representative result for
anti-18.2 is shown. 1-Muscle and
2-Placenta protein extracts were used for
non-denaturing electrophoresis followed
by western blot with anti-18.2 peptide (1 :
or without antibody (data not shown) or in other tissue
(muscle, Figure 3, line 1). The presence of two bands
may indicate different glycosylation or charge states of
PAG 18, or the presence of an additional, still not re-
ported member of the PAG family that also contains the
used peptide. As more than 100 genes may encode PAGs
in ruminant placenta [15] the last possibility can not be
ruled out.
The considerations made for peptide design in this
work allowed the development of specific antibodies in
all five randomly chosen cases. The preparation of anti-
bodies specific for different PAGs through the use of
chemical peptides, designed not only based on unique-
ness in PAGs but also following the other guidelines
listed here, may help obtain better results in ruminant
pregnancy detection. These simple guidelines may serve
prepare specific antibodies for other purposes as well.
This work was supported by Secretaría de Estado de Ciencia,
Tecnología e Innovación, Provincia de Santa Fe, Argentina, and
Fundación Nuevo Banco de Santa Fe, Argentina.
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