The human high molecular weight-melanoma-associated antigen (HMW-MAA) meets the criteria to be used as an immunogen for immunotherapy of malignant melanoma, because it is expressed by a large percentage of melanoma lesions with limited heterogeneity and has a restricted distribution in normal tissues. The high immunogenicity of the HMW-MAA in BALB/c mice has resulted in the development of a large number of anti-HMW-MAA monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). In contrast, no human anti-HMW-MAA mAbs have been described. Because the latter may serve as useful probes to characterize the antigenic profile of the HMW-MAA, human anti-HMW-MAA single-chain fragments of the variable region (scFvs) were isolated by panning synthetic scFv library 1 on purified HMW-MAA. Colony hybridization studies and nucleotide sequence analysis revealed that scFv 19, 44, 56, and 61 belong to the VH3 gene family and use the DP-38 germ-line gene segment but have a diverse third complementarity-determining region. The human scFvs share some characteristics with mouse anti-HMW-MAA mAb but also display some distinct features. Like mouse mAbs, human scFvs recognize determinants of HMW-MAA with a heterogeneous cellular and molecular distribution in human melanoma cells. Furthermore, like some mouse mAbs, human scFvs react with rat neural cells expressing the chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan NG2, which shows 81% homology to the HMW-MAA. However, at variance with mouse mAbs, the human scFvs show poor reactivity with guinea pig melanoma cells. Lastly, human scFv 61 stains both benign and malignant lesions of melanocytic origin, although with a lower frequency than mouse mAbs. Analysis of the clinical significance of the differential expression of the scFv 61-defined determinant in melanoma lesions will be facilitated by its reactivity with formalin-fixed melanoma lesions. In contrast to mouse mAb, scFv 61 immunoprecipitates the >450-kDa chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan component of the HMW-MAA, but not its 250-kDa subunit from melanoma cells. Thus, contrary to the current view about the structure of HMW-MAA, our results demonstrate that the two components are not associated. The described scFv antibodies, which represent the first example of human anti-HMW-MAA antibodies, have provided novel information about the structure of this antigen. Future studies will assess the impact of these in vitro-assembled antibody fragments on the identification of antigenic determinants of the HMW-MAA that can be recognized by the human immune system.


This work was supported by USPHS Grants CA37959 and CA51814 awarded by the National Cancer Institute, Department of Health and Human Services.

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