JUST – EVOTEC BIOLOGICS, INC. WHITE PAPER  | March | 2020

CoreAb Sequence Classification – Alex Taylor

INTRODUCTION
A methodology has been developed for the structural alignment and classification of full sequences
from antibodies and antibody-like structures using the Antibody Structural Numbering system (ASN).
For a description of the Antibody Structural Numbering system (ASN), please see the accompanying
white paper. The classification process generates a series of ASN-aligned regions which can be used
to uniquely describe residue locations in common across different molecules.

CLASSIFICATION PROCESS
The CoreAb Java library (developed at Just – Evotec Biologics) contains algorithms for the classification
and alignment of antibodies and antibody-like sequences. A high-level summary of the classification
process is presented in Figure 1. The first step in the classification process is the detection of antibody
variable and constant regions specified in the detection settings. The default regions for detection are
kappa variable, lambda variable, heavy variable, light constant, heavy constant Ig (CH1), heavy
constant Fc-N (CH2), and heavy constant Fc-C (CH3). A Position-Specific Sequence Matrix (PSSM)
has been pre-built for each type and is used as a low threshold first pass filter for region detection using
the Smith-Waterman algorithm to find local alignments. Each local alignment is then refined by a more
careful alignment comparison to the germline gene segments from species specified in the detection
settings. If germline data for the query’s species of origin does not exist or is incomplete in the resource
files contained in CoreAb, other, more complete, germline gene data sets from other species can be
used to identify homologous regions. The germline sequences are stored as ASN-aligned so that the
resulting region alignments are also ASN-aligned.

To generate an alignment for variable regions, the PSSM-matched sub-sequence is aligned to both
germline V-segments and J-segments and these results are combined to synthesize an alignment for
the entire variable region. For heavy variable regions, the germine D-segments are aligned to the
residues between the V-segment match and the J-segment match. As a final step in the variable region
alignment refinement process, CDR regions are center-gapped to match the AHo/ASN numbering system. 

Fig. 1
High-level antibody classification pseudocode
  1. Identify antibody variable and constant regions (domains)
      a. Loop over the region types that were specified in settings
           i. Use a PSSM for the region type to find local alignments in the query
           ii. Loop over each local alignment from the query
                   1. Loop over the germline sets that were specified in settings
                         a. Generate a refined region alignment for the PSSM alignment
                             i. Only keep alignments that meet the minimum number of identities and region percent
                                 identity specified in settings
                             ii. Assign ASN numbering
                             iii. If variable region, refine the alignment and adjust CDR gapping
                             iv. If constant region and alignment is < 10 aa, toss it unless it is at the start of the region 

    2. Identify potential leader region matches (can use SeqParts)
    3. Resolve overlapping regions giving priority to the higher scoring region
    4. Assign gaps between identified regions (can use SeqParts)
    5. Cleanup constant regions
    6. Assign chain and structure format (based on the arrangement of regions) 

Resulting germline-aligned regions are subjected to minimum percent identity thresholds which can be
specified in the detection settings. The default threshold is 80% identity for constant regions and 60%
identity for variable region frameworks. Constant region results of less than 10 residues are removed
unless they occur at the start of a region. Regions that meet these thresholds are then compared to the
other results for the same region and, if overlaps are found, the lower scoring region is removed.
Step 2 of the classification process is the detection of a leader sequence. If, after the variable and
constant regions have been detected, there remains an N-terminal portion of the query sequence that is
unmatched, the N-terminal portion is aligned to germline leaders from the specified germline gene sets
and also to user-specified SeqPart sequences which have been provided to the detector. Resulting
leader regions are subjected to a minimum percentage identity threshold which can be specified in the
detection settings. The default threshold is 80% identity for leader regions. The highest scoring region
result that meets this threshold is retained as the leader region.

In step 3, remaining regions are sorted by their score and then overlaps are resolved by giving
preference to the higher scoring region except in cases where the overlapping residues are identities in
the lower scoring region and are not identities in the higher scoring region. This step may result in the
removal of the lower scoring region.

Step 4 assigns regions to any portions of the query which fall before, between, or after the remaining
identified regions. If such regions fall after a constant Ig region or constant Fc-C region, germline hinge
or post-constant regions from the germline gene matching the preceding region are respectively aligned
to the query subsequence. If the resulting alignment percent identity meets the constant region
threshold, the regions are added. Remaining unmatched portions of the query are then compared to

SeqParts if a SeqParts resource has been provided to the detector and resulting regions with a percent
identity of greater than or equal to 80% are retained. Any portions of the query that still remain
unassigned are assigned to unrecognized regions.

In step 5, the assigned constant region germline genes are harmonized if necessary. In many cases a
region may have the same sequence for different alleles. In this step, the overall best scoring germline
gene is determined and then any regions that are assigned to another germline gene are checked to
determine if the overall best scoring germline has an equivalent score. If so, then the assignment for
the region is changed to the overall best scoring germline.

The final step in the sequence classification process is to assign a chain format. If an AbFormatCache
is provided to the detector, it is used to match the pattern of regions to a reference pattern associated
with a particular chain format. Figure 2 shows a portion of the default AbFormatCache contained in the
CoreAb library.

After all sequence chains have been classified they can be grouped into structures, often based on a
common base name. An AbFormatCache can then be used to assign a structure format such as IgG1
Antibody or IgG1 Fc-Fusion to the structure by matching the chain formats present in the structure to
structure format definitions that are made up of possible combinations of chain formats.

Fig. 2
Snippet of the default AbFormatCache from CoreAb. Three chain format definitions and
three structure format
 definitions are shown. Regions in curly braces are optional.
 

<AbFormatCache version=’2′>
         <ChainFormats>
         …
        <ChainFormat id=’55’ name=’DVD-IgG1 Heavy Chain’ abbrev=’DVD-IgG HC’ description=’DVD-IgG1 Heavy Chain’>
                      {Ldr} ; HV ; Lnk ; HV ; IgG1:HCnst-Ig ; IgG1:Hinge ; IgG1:Fc-N ; IgG1:Fc-C ; IgG1:HCnst-Po
        </ChainFormat>
        <ChainFormat id=’56’ name=’IgG1 Fc-Fusion’ abbrev=’IgG1 Fc-Fusion’ description=’IgG1 Fc-Fusion’>
                      {Ldr} ; Unk ; {Lnk}; IgG1:Hinge ; IgG1:Fc-N ; IgG1:Fc-C ; IgG1:HCnst-Po
        </ChainFormat>
        <ChainFormat id=’57’ name=’IgG1 Heavy Chain F(ab&apos;)2′ abbrev=’IgG1 HC F(ab&apos;)2′ description=’IgG1 Heavy Chain F(ab&apos;)2′>
                      {Ldr} ; HV ; IgG1:HCnst-Ig ; IgG1:Hinge&lt;C113,C116>
        </ChainFormat>
        …
      </ChainFormats>
      <StructureFormats>
              …
             <StructureFormat id=’28’ name=’DVD-IgG1′ abbrev=’DVD-IgG1′ description=’Dual Variable Domain (DVD) Bispecific IgG1 Antibody’>
                  <ChainCombination>
                         <ChainFormat id=’53’ stoichiometry=’2′ />
                         <ChainFormat id=’55’ stoichiometry=’2′ />
                  </ChainCombination>
                  <ChainCombination>
                         <ChainFormat id=’54’ stoichiometry=’2′ />
                         <ChainFormat id=’55’ stoichiometry=’2′ />
                  </ChainCombination>
            </StructureFormat>
            <StructureFormat id=’29’ name=’IgG1 Fc-Fusion’ abbrev=’IgG1 Fc-Fusion’ description=’IgG1 Fc-Fusion’>
                  <ChainCombination>

                        <ChainFormat id=’56’ stoichiometry=’2′ />
                  </ChainCombination>
           </StructureFormat>
           <StructureFormat id=’30’ name=’IgG1 F(ab&apos;)2′ abbrev=’IgG1 F(ab&apos;)2′ description=’IgG1 F(ab&apos;)2 Fragment’>
                 <ChainCombination>
                         <ChainFormat id=’5′ stoichiometry=’2′ />
                         <ChainFormat id=’57’ stoichiometry=’2′ />
                 </ChainCombination>
                 <ChainCombination>
                         <ChainFormat id=’8′ stoichiometry=’2′ />
                        <ChainFormat id=’57’ stoichiometry=’2′ />
                 </ChainCombination>
          </StructureFormat>
         …
   </StructureFormats>
</AbFormatsCache>

REFERENCE GERMLINE DATA EXTRACTION PROCESS
The extraction and compilation of antibody germline gene data can be a difficult and time consuming
process. In cases where gene annotation is provided by the NCBI, a CoreAb tool is used to extract and
align the gene information. Incomplete or unannotated genomes require a more de novo approach.
CoreAb also contains a tool that can scan for potential V-segments, J-segments, and D-segments
using PSSMs designed to locate the Recombination Signal Sequence (RSS) sequences used to join
the variable region segments. Manual curation is still required to filter and adjust the results but this
automation can alleviate most of the tedious work. When possible, names for extracted genes are set
to those from IMGT since that is the source of official naming. Figure 3 displays a section of an
XML-formatted germline data resource file. Default XML-formatted germline data is included in CoreAb
and loaded at runtime. Additional or alternate germline data can be provided by the user. Full or partial
antibody gene data is currently included in CoreAb for the following organisms: Bos taurus, Camelus
bactrianus, Camelus dromedarius, Canis familiaris, Cavia porcellus, Gallus gallus, Homo sapiens,
Macaca mulatta, Mus musculus, Oryctolagus cuniculus, Ovis aries, Protopterus dolloi, Rattus
norvegicus, Struthio camelus, and Vicugna pacos. 

Fig. 3
Snippet of the Bos taurus HV.xml germline data file of heavy variable genes extracted from genomic sequences.
<?xml version=’1.0′ encoding=’UTF-8′ standalone=’yes’ ?>
<GermlineGeneSetRsrc igGeneGroup=’IGHV’ taxonId=’9913′>

    <GermlineGene id=’IGHV1-20*01′>
         <Note>Num RSS mismatches: 0</Note>
         <GenomicLoc build=’ARS-UCD1.2′ chromosome=’21’ contig=’NW_020190105.1′ contigLength=’69862954′
strand=’Forward’>join(278220..278274,278353..278658)</GenomicLoc>
         <DB_Xref db=’Just-TempId’>IGHV1-4S*01</DB_Xref>
         <DB_Xref db=’IMGT/GENE-DB’>IGHV1-20*01</DB_Xref>
         <Intron donorSite=’a gtgtc’ acceptorSite=’acag g’ seqLength=’78’>
             <GenomicLoc build=’ARS-UCD1.2′ chromosome=’21’ contig=’NW_020190105.1′ contigLength=’69862954′
strand=’Forward’>278275..278352</GenomicLoc>
             <DNA>
                     gtgtctctgggtcagacatgggcacgtggggaagctgcctctgagcccacgggtcaccgtgcttctctctctccacag  

            </DNA>
  </Intron>
  <AlignedRegions>
            <AlignedRegion region=’HLdr’>
                  <Protein>
                    MNPLWEPPLVLSSPQSGVRVLS
                  </Protein>
                  <DNA>
                       atgaacccactgtgggaacctcctcttgtgctctcaagcccccagagcggagtgagggtcctgtcc
                 </DNA>
    </AlignedRegion>
    <AlignedRegion region=’HV’>
        <Protein>
QVQLRES-GPSLVKPSQTLSLTCTVSG-FSLSS—–YAVGWVRQAPGKALEWLGGISS—-GGSTYYNPALKSRLSITKDNSKSQVSLSVSSVTPEDTATYYCAK——————————-
———-
         </Protein>
         <DNA RSS_3prime=’cacagtg aggggaaatcagtgtgagcccag acaaaaacc’ splitCodon3prime=’ga’>
             caggtgcagctgcgggagtcgggccccagcctggtgaagccctcacagaccctctccctcacctgcacggtctctggattctcactgagcagctatgctg
             taggctgggtccgccaggctccagggaaggcgctggagtggctcggtggtataagcagtggtggaagcacatactataacccagccctgaaatcccggct
             cagcatcaccaaggacaactccaagagccaagtctctctgtcagtgagcagcgtgacacctgaggacacggccacatactactgtgcgaagga
         </DNA>
      </AlignedRegion>
   </AlignedRegions>
</GermlineGene>

</GermlineGeneSetRsrc>