Recombinant Monoclonal Antibody Overview

Recombinant Monoclonal Antibody Definition

What are recombinant antibodies? Recombinant antibodies are monoclonal antibodies produced by recombinant DNA technology. Owing to their high specificity, sensitivity and reproducibility, recombinant antibodies are widely used in biomedical science and medicine.

Moreover, fewer animals are required for recombinant antibody generation than for polyclonal antibody generation and large synthetic antibody libraries (from a variety of species) exist which can effectively obviate the need for animal usage. For recombinant antibody production, once the initial generation of recombinant antibody DNA is completed, animals are no longer required.

Recombinant antibody formats

In addition to full-length antibodies, recombinant antibodies can also be produced in different formats. These include chimeric antibodies, Fab fragments, scFv fragments and bispecific antibodies. Besides, they can be generated in multiple expression systems, including bacteria, insect cells, yeast, and mammalian cells.

Recombinant antibody formats
Fig 1. Recombinant antibody formats (Pic from Front. Immunol.)

Recombinant monoclonal antibodies possess some advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of recombinant antibodies

• Improved reproducibility and control
• Reduced production time
• Animal-free production
• Easier isotype conversion

Disadvantages of recombinant antibodies

• High degree of technical skills required
• High cost to develop and produce

Recombinant Monoclonal Antibody Production

Recombinant antibody technology

Recombinant monoclonal antibody technology comprises a group of molecular approaches useful for the cloning and production of antibodies without requiring the use of conventional tissue culture (hybridoma) methods.

Antibody phage display provides a solution for the generation of recombinant antibodies. The hallmark of the approach is the establishment of a physical link between an antibody's phenotype (i.e., that portion of the antibody protein which binds antigen, i.e., the Fab domain) and its genotype (i.e., the heavy- and light-chain DNA that encodes that particular Fab molecule). cDNA is prepared from the mRNA of the rearranged Ig genes expressed by donor B-cells, and heavy- and light-chain gene segments are amplified by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The heavy and light chains are cloned into one of a number of available plasmid expression vectors, resulting in a library of over 108 Fab DNAs. Co-transfection of these plasmids with M13 helper phage into E. coli results in phagemid particles which carry Fab DNA on the inside and Fab protein on the outside by fusion to a phage coat protein.

In a process called panning, such 'Fab/phage display' libraries are incubated with antigen to bind Fab/phage bearing specificities of interest. Unbound Fab/phage are washed away and the bound Fab/phage are eluted and allowed to re-infect E. coli cultures for further propagation. After two to four rounds of panning, essentially all Fab/phage are specific to the antigen of interest. Phage particles bearing expressed mAb on their tips can be used directly in diagnostic assays (e.g., blood group typing) or can be genetically manipulated to express soluble antibody molecules (free of phage) that can be used in conventional (e.g., indirect Coombstype) assays.

Antibody phage display process
Fig 2. Antibody phage display process (Pic from Wikipedia)

Recombinant antibody expression

Immunoglobulin G (IgG) is a heterotetrameric molecule consisting of two heavy and two light chains, respectively, which are connected via disulfide bonds. Heavy and light chains (HC and LC) also contain intramolecular disulfide bonds for stabilization. These structural properties require a sophisticated folding apparatus as well as an oxidizing environment for the generation of disulfide bonds.

There are various expression systems available to efficiently produce recombinant antibodies and antibody fragments.

Mammalian cell lines represent the most widely used expression system for the production of recombinant antibodies. Several other hosts are being developed which are even able to produce antibodies with human-like glycosylation patterns.

E. coli is a widely used expression host for production of antibody fragments. Using high-cell density fermentation, the yield can be up to 1–2 g/L depending on the individual antibody fragment. This expression system is well established with many highly characterised expression vectors for introduction of the antibody genes into the host. Additionally the cells are inexpensive, easily grown and quickly produce small amounts of target protein for evaluation.

Yeasts, as a eukaryotic organism, has the capacity to perform post-translational modifications. In addition, they can be used even in high throughput processes and glyco-engineering enables the expression of recombinant proteins with human-like glycosylation.

Insect cells contain a better suited protein folding and secretion apparatus than prokaryotes. Their high robustness combined with less sophisticated requirements for fermentation provide some advantages compared to mammalian cells. However, the development of stable insect cell lines and process technology is not developed as far.

Recombinant Antibody VS Hybridoma Monoclonal Antibody Production

  Recombinant antibodies Monoclonal antibodies
Timeline Short cycle, only 2-6 weeks Longer cycle, 4-6 months
Antibody format Formats are not limited. It can be genetically engineered at the genetic level to custom antibodies to different requirements, for example, fragment antibody scFv and Fab, full-length antibod, bispecific antibody, etc. site-directed mutagenesis (variable and constant regions transformation), cross-subtype (IgG1-IgG4), and cross-species (Human/mouse chimeric antibodies, etc.) Single format: full-length antibodies limited to fixed species
Production scale Extremely flexible. It can be produced in small scale production or in high-throughput mass production. Not flexible. Production scale is subject to certain restrictions depending on the needs.
Lot-to-lot consistency High lot-to-lot consistency. The production of recombinant antibodies is a standardized process with controllable, traceable and reproducible results. Recombinant antibodies are a better choice for other assays such as ELISA, IHC and Western Blotting. There is a certain degree of inter-batch difference in antibodies based on individual reasons and immunizations. The inter-batch differences of monoclonal antibodies are controllable, while that of the polyclonal antibodies are generally uncontrollable.
Antibody labeling Enzyme labeling, fluorescent labeling, isotope labeling, biotin labeling, etc. Enzyme labeling, fluorescent labeling, isotope labeling, biotin labeling, etc.
Immune animals No Animal immunization cannot be completely eliminated to obtain antibodies
Applications Detection antibodies, diagnostic reagents, antibody drugs Detection antibodies, diagnostic reagents


1. Frenzel, A., Hust, M., & Schirrmann, T. (2013). Expression of recombinant antibodies. Frontiers in immunology, 4, 217.
2. Echko, M., & Dozier, S. (2010). Recombinant antibody technology for the production of antibodies without the use of animals. In EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES. (p. 9).
3. Siegel, D. L. (2002). Recombinant monoclonal antibody technology. Transfusion clinique et biologique, 9(1), 15-22.

Get a Quote Now