N-terminal specificity of PEGylation of human bone morphogenetic protein-2 at acidic pH

Site-specific PEGylation offers the possibility to modify a therapeutic protein without interfering with its biological activity. Previously, a preferential N-terminal PEGylation has been reported for several proteins when the reaction was performed at acidic pH. In the present study it was explored if acidic pH favors N-terminal PEGylation of bone morphogenetic protein-2 (BMP-2). PEGylation by poly(ethylene glycol) aldehyde (PEG-AL) or poly(ethylene glycol) carboxymethyl succinimidyl ester (PEG-NHS) was performed at moderate acidic pH of 4. Comparing with PEG-NHS, PEG-AL converted more BMP-2 mainly to mono- or di-PEGylated derivatives at much less molar excess and shorter duration. Analysis of Tryptic fragments of the PEGylated derivatives indicated a partial N-terminal PEGylation specificity. PEG-AL exhibited higher specificity than PEG-NHS. UV spectrometry proved that PEGylation improved the solubility of BMP-2 in PBS. Surface plasmon resonance showed that PEGylation decreased the binding of BMP-2 proteins to a type 11 receptor. Remarkably, mono-PEGylated BMP-2 with PEG-AL showed higher cellular bioactivity than unmodified protein. Higher N-terminal PEGylation specificity correlates with higher receptor binding affinity and cellular activity. In summary, PEGylation of BMP-2 by PEG-AL and PEG-NHS at acidic pH exhibits a partial N-terminal specificity which however might be sufficient for an efficient site-specific PEGylation process。

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