Monoclonal antibodies have become increasingly accepted as diagnostics and therapeutics for various human diseases due to their high affinity and specificity. However, several practical drawbacks are apparent for the reagents based on conventional IgG antibodies. With the emergence of antibody engineering, many problems were overcome when the recombinant antibody fragments such as Fabs, scFvs, diabodies and single domain antibodies (sdAbs), are developed. These fragments not only retain the specificity of the whole monoclonal antibodies, but are also easy to express and produce in prokaryotic expression systems. Rather unexpectedly, the natural sdAbs namely VHHs, VNARs and variable lymphocyte receptors (VLRs) that comprise excellent biological activities were recently discovered in camelids, cartilaginous fish and lampreys, respectively. Due to their unique characteristics, including small size, high thermostability, stable folding in the nucleus and cytosol and long CDR3 regions which have access to cavities or clefts on the surface of proteins, these new binders are now investigated extensively as a substitute for conventional antibodies. This review describes the potential of sdAbs selected using in vitro display systems and their use in multiple applications.
Part of the book: Antibody Engineering