Site-specific in situ growth of a cyclized protein-polymer conjugate with improved stability and tumor retention.

PMID 25682156


A major disadvantage of therapeutic proteins is their instability to external stressors during storage, transport and use. Here, we report site-specific in situ growth of a cyclized protein-polymer conjugate with improved in vitro and in vivo stability. Green fluorescence protein (GFP) was genetically fused at its N- and C-termini with two sortase recognition sequences pentaglycine and LPETG, respectively to yield a linear GFP (l-GFP). A cyclized GFP (c-GFP) was generated from the l-GFP by sortase-catalyzed cyclization. A maleimide-functionalized atom transfer radical polymerization (ATRP) initiator was selectively attached to a free cysteine residue genetically engineered at the C-terminus of GFP to form a macroinitiator (c-GFP-Br). Subsequent in situ ATRP of oligo(ethylene glycol) methyl ether methacrylate (OEGMA) from the c-GFP-Br generated a site-specific (C-terminal) and stoichiometric (1:1) c-GFP-POEGMA conjugate with almost quantitative conversion and highly retained activity. Notably, the c-GFP-POEGMA conjugate showed 9- and 310-fold increases in thermal stability as compared to the l-GFP and its counterpart l-GFP-POEGMA, respectively. Additionally, the conjugate displayed significantly improved tumor retention relative to the l-GFP and l-GFP-POEGMA. The method developed may be applicable to a variety of therapeutic proteins to improve their in vitro and in vivo stability.