We report the discovery of a broadly reactive antibody-binding protein (Protein M) from human mycoplasma. The crystal structure of the ectodomain of transmembrane Protein M differs from other known protein structures, as does its mechanism of antibody binding. Protein M binds with high affinity to all types of human and nonhuman immunoglobulin G, predominantly through attachment to the conserved portions of the variable region of the κ and λ light chains. Protein M blocks antibody-antigen union, likely because of its large C-terminal domain extending over the antibody-combining site, blocking entry to large antigens. Similar to the other immunoglobulin-binding proteins such as Protein A, Protein M as well as its orthologs in other Mycoplasma species could become invaluable reagents in the antibody field.
Our immune systems can produce a vastly diverse repertoire of antibody molecules that each recognize and bind to a specific foreign antigen via a hypervariable region. However, there are a few bacterial antigens—such as Protein A, Protein G, and Protein L—that instead bind to the antibody's conserved regions and can bind to a large number of different antibodies. These high-affinity broad-spectrum antibody-binding properties have been widely exploited both in the laboratory and in industry for purifying, immobilizing, and detecting antibodies. Grover et al. (p. 656) have now identified Protein M found on the surface of human mycoplasma, which displays even broader antibody-binding specificity. The crystal structure of Protein M revealed how Protein-M binding blocks the antibody's antigen binding site. This mechanism may be exploited by mycoplasma to escape the humoral immune response.