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Complete list of stems for
monoclonal antibody nomenclature
Prefix Target substem Source substem Suffix
old new meaning meaning
variable -anibi- angiogenesis inhibitor -a- rat -mab
-ba(c)- -b(a)- bacterial -e- hamster
-ci(r)- -c(i)- cardiovascular -i- primate
-fu(ng)- -f(u)- fungal -o- mouse
-ki(n)- -k(i)- interleukin as target -u- human
-le(s)- inflammatory lesions -xi- chimeric (human/foreign)
-li(m)- -l(i)- immune system -zu- humanized
-mu(l)- musculoskeletal -xizu-* chimeric/humanized hybrid
-ne(u)(r)- -n(e)-* nervous system -axo- rat/mouse hybrid
(see trifunctional antibody)
-o(s)- -s(o)- bone
-toxa- -tox(a)- toxin as target
-co(l)- -t(u)- colonic tumor
-go(t)- testicular tumor
-go(v)- ovarian tumor
-ma(r)- mammary tumor
-me(l)- melanoma
-pr(o)- prostate tumor
-tu(m)- miscellaneous tumor
-vi(r)- -v(i)- viral
* under discussion as of February 2010

The nomenclature of monoclonal antibodies is a naming scheme for assigning generic, or nonproprietary, names to a group of medicines called monoclonal antibodies. This scheme is used for both the World Health Organization’s International Nonproprietary Names and the United States Adopted Names.[4][1] In general, suffixes are used to identify a class of medicines; all monoclonal antibody pharmaceuticals end with the suffix -mab. However, different preceding affixes are used depending on the structure and function of the medicine. These are officially called substems and sometimes erroneously infixes, but are actually suffixes as well.

This nomenclature is also used for fragments of monoclonal antibodies, such as antigen binding fragments and single-chain variable fragments.



Substem for origin/source

Source substems: mouse (top left), chimeric (top right), humanized (bottom left), chimeric/humanized (bottom middle), and human (bottom right) monoclonal antibodies. Human parts are shown in red, non-human parts in blue.

The substem preceding the -mab suffix denotes the animal origin of the antibodies.[1] The original monoclonal antibodies were produced in mice (-o-) or other non-human organisms, and these antibodies are recognized as foreign by the human immune system and may be rapidly cleared, provoke an allergic reaction, or both. To avoid this, parts of the antibody may be replaced with human sequences. If the constant region is replaced with the human form, it is termed chimeric and the substem used is -xi-. Part of the variable regions, typically everything but the complementarity determining regions, may also be substituted, in which case it is termed humanized and -zu- is used. Pure human antibodies use -u-.

Substem for target

The substem preceding the source of the antibody refers to medicine's target. In the naming scheme as originally developed, these substems mostly consist of a consonant, vowel, then another consonant. For ease of pronunciation and to avoid awkwardness, the final consonant may be dropped if the following source substem begins with a consonant (such as -zu- or -xi-). Examples of these include -ci(r)- for the circulatory system, -li(m)- for the immune system (lim stands for lymphocyte) and -ne(r)- or -neu(r)- for the nervous system.[1]

In 2009, new and shorter target substems were introduced. They mostly consist of a consonant, plus a vowel which is omitted if the source substem begins with a consonant. For example, human antibodies targeting the immune system will receive names ending in -lumab instead of the old -limumab. Some endings, like -ciximab for chimeric antibodies targeting the circulatory system, will remain unchanged.[2]


The prefix carries no special meaning and should be unique for each medicine.

Additional words

A second word may be added if there is another substance attached or linked. If the antibody contains a radioisotope, the name of the isotope precedes the name of the antibody.


New convention

  • Olaratumab is an antineoplastic. Its name is composed of olara- + -t- + -u- + -mab. This shows that the drug is a human monoclonal antibody acting against tumors.
  • The name of benralizumab, a drug designed for the treatment of asthma, has the components benra- + -li- + -zu- + -mab, marking it as a humanized antibody acting on the immune system.

Old convention

  • Adalimumab is a drug targeting TNF alpha. Its name can be broken down into ada- + -lim- + -u- + -mab. Therefore, the drug is a human monoclonal antibody targeting the immune system. If adalimumab had been named after 2009, it would have been adalumab.
  • Abciximab is a commonly used medication to prevent platelets from clumping together. Broken down into ab- + -ci- + -xi- + -mab, its name shows the drug to be a chimeric monoclonal antibody used on the cardiovascular system. This and the following two names would look the same if the new convention were applied.
  • The name of the breast cancer medication trastuzumab can be analyzed as tras- + -tu- + -zu- + -mab. Therefore, the drug is a humanized monoclonal antibody used against a tumor.
  • Alacizumab pegol is a humanized antibody targeting the circulatory system. The additional word pegol refers to the PEGylation of the antibody.
  • Indium (111In) igovomab and technetium (99mTc) nofetumomab merpentan are radiolabeled antibodies.


  • The monoclonal antibody muromonab-CD3 was named before these conventions took effect, and consequently its name does not follow them. Instead, it is a contraction from "murine monoclonal antibody targeting CD3".[5]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "AMA (USAN) Monoclonal antibodies". United States Adopted Names. 2007-08-07. Retrieved 2007-08-15. 
  2. ^ a b "General policies for monoclonal antibodies" (PDF). World Health Organization. 2009-06-24. Retrieved 2010-02-11. 
  3. ^ "The use of stems in the selection of International Nonproprietary Names (INN) for pharmaceutical substances" (PDF). World Health Organization. 2009. Retrieved 2010-02-22. 
  4. ^ "Guidelines on the Use of International Nonproprietary Names (INNs) for Pharmaceutical Substances" (PDF). 1997. pp. 27–28. Retrieved 2007-08-15. 
  5. ^ Mutschler, Ernst; Gerd Geisslinger, Heyo K. Kroemer, Monika Schäfer-Korting (2001) (in German). Arzneimittelwirkungen (8 ed.). Stuttgart: Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft. p. 937. ISBN 3-8047-1763-2. 

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