Protein tag-mediated conjugation of oligonucleotides to recombinant affinity binders for proximity ligation
While antibodies currently play a dominant role as affinity reagents in biological research and for diagnostics, a broad range of recombinant proteins are emerging as promising alternative affinity reagents in detection assays and quantification. DNA-mediated affinity-based assays, such as immuno-PCR and proximity ligation assays (PLA), use oligonucleotides attached to affinity reagents as reporter molecules. Conjugation of oligonucleotides to affinity reagents generally employs chemistries that target primary amines or cysteines. Because of the random nature of these processes neither the number of oligonucleotides conjugated per molecule nor their sites of attachment can be accurately controlled for affinity reagents with several available amines and cysteines. Here, we present a straightforward and convenient approach to functionalize recombinant affinity reagents for PLA by expressing the reagents as fusion partners with SNAP protein tags. This allowed us to conjugate oligonucleotides in a site-specific fashion, yielding precisely one oligonucleotide per affinity reagent. We demonstrate this method using designed ankyrin repeat proteins (DARPins) recognizing the tumor antigen HER2 and we apply the conjugates in different assay formats. We also show that SNAP or CLIP tags, expressed as fusion partners of transfected genes, allow oligonucleotide conjugations to be performed in fixed cells, with no need for specific affinity reagents. The approach is used to demonstrate induced interactions between the fusion proteins FKBP and FRB by allowing the in situ conjugated oligonucleotides to direct the production of templates for localized rolling circle amplification reactions.