Monoclonal Human Antibodies That Recognise the Exposed N and C Terminal Regions of the Often-Overlooked SARS-CoV-2 ORF3a Transmembrane Protein

Tyng Hwey Tan, Elizabeth Patton, Carol A. Munro, Dora E. Corzo-Leon, Andrew J. Porter* (Corresponding Author), Soumya Palliyil* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
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ORF3a has been identified as a viroporin of SARS-CoV-2 and is known to be involved in various pathophysiological activities including disturbance of cellular calcium homeostasis, inflammasome activation, apoptosis induction and disruption of autophagy. ORF3a-targeting antibodies may specifically and favorably modulate these viroporin-dependent pathological activities. However, suitable viroporin-targeting antibodies are difficult to generate because of the well-recognized technical challenge associated with isolating antibodies to complex transmembrane proteins. Here we exploited a naïve human single chain antibody phage display library, to isolate binders against carefully chosen ORF3a recombinant epitopes located towards the extracellular N terminal and cytosolic C terminal domains of the protein using peptide antigens. These binders were subjected to further characterization using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays and surface plasmon resonance analysis to assess their binding affinities to the target epitopes. Binding to full-length ORF3a protein was evaluated by western blot and fluorescent microscopy using ORF3a transfected cells and SARS-CoV-2 infected cells. Co-localization analysis was also performed to evaluate the “pairing potential” of the selected binders as possible alternative diagnostic or prognostic biomarkers for COVID-19 infections. Both ORF3a N and C termini, epitope-specific monoclonal antibodies were identified in our study. Whilst the linear nature of peptides might not always represent their native conformations in the context of full protein, with carefully designed selection protocols, we have been successful in isolating anti-ORF3a binders capable of recognising regions of the transmembrane protein that are exposed either on the “inside” or “outside” of the infected cell. Their therapeutic potential will be discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2201
Number of pages12
Issue number11
Early online date2 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Acknowledgments: The authors would like to gratefully acknowledge the efforts of Julia Martinez Fraile, Richard Lofthouse, Lewis Penny, Mohammad Arastoo and Natalia Cattelan for providing training and assistance with various experimental procedures described in this study. The authors also thank the University of Aberdeen Microscopy and Histology Facility for training and access to fluorescence microscopy and Aberdeen Proteomics for access to BiacoreX100 for SPR binding analysis.
Funding: Chief Scientist Office, Scottish Government (COV/ABN/20/01). MRC Centre for Medical Mycology at the University of Exeter (MR/P501955/2).


  • SARS-CoV-2
  • ORF3a
  • viroporin
  • recombinant antibodies
  • anti-ORF3a mAbs


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