A bispecific, crosslinking lectibody activates cytotoxic T cells and induces cancer cell death

Francesca Rosato, Rajeev Pasupuleti, Jana Tomisch, Ana Valeria Meléndez, Dajana Kolanovic, Olga N. Makshakova, Birgit Wiltschi, Winfried Römer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Aberrant glycosylation patterns play a crucial role in the development of cancer cells as they promote tumor growth and aggressiveness. Lectins recognize carbohydrate antigens attached to proteins and lipids on cell surfaces and represent potential tools for application in cancer diagnostics and therapy. Among the emerging cancer therapies, immunotherapy has become a promising treatment modality for various hematological and solid malignancies. Here we present an approach to redirect the immune system into fighting cancer by targeting altered glycans at the surface of malignant cells. We developed a so-called “lectibody”, a bispecific construct composed of a lectin linked to an antibody fragment. This lectibody is inspired by bispecific T cell engager (BiTEs) antibodies that recruit cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) while simultaneously binding to tumor-associated antigens (TAAs) on cancer cells. The tumor-related glycosphingolipid globotriaosylceramide (Gb3) represents the target of this proof-of-concept study. It is recognized with high selectivity by the B-subunit of the pathogen-derived Shiga toxin, presenting opportunities for clinical development. Methods: The lectibody was realized by conjugating an anti-CD3 single-chain antibody fragment to the B-subunit of Shiga toxin to target Gb3+ cancer cells. The reactive non-canonical amino acid azidolysine (AzK) was inserted at predefined single positions in both proteins. The azido groups were functionalized by bioorthogonal conjugation with individual linkers that facilitated selective coupling via an alternative bioorthogonal click chemistry reaction. In vitro cell-based assays were conducted to evaluate the antitumoral activity of the lectibody. CTLs, Burkitt´s lymphoma-derived cells and colorectal adenocarcinoma cell lines were screened in flow cytometry and cytotoxicity assays for activation and lysis, respectively. Results: This proof-of-concept study demonstrates that the lectibody activates T cells for their cytotoxic signaling, redirecting CTLs´ cytotoxicity in a highly selective manner and resulting in nearly complete tumor cell lysis—up to 93%—of Gb3+ tumor cells in vitro. Conclusions: This research highlights the potential of lectins in targeting certain tumors, with an opportunity for new cancer treatments. When considering a combinatorial strategy, lectin-based platforms of this type offer the possibility to target glycan epitopes on tumor cells and boost the efficacy of current therapies, providing an additional strategy for tumor eradication and improving patient outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number578
JournalJournal of Translational Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


  • Bispecific targeting
  • Cancer immunotherapy
  • Click chemistry
  • Globotriaosylceramide
  • Lectins
  • Shiga toxin
  • T cells
  • Tumor-associated carbohydrate antigens

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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