PEGylation of native disulfide bonds in proteins
PEGylation has turned proteins into important new biopharmaceuticals. The fundamental problems with the existing approaches to PEGylation are inefficient conjugation and the formation of heterogeneous mixtures. This is because poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) is usually conjugated to nucleophilic amine residues. Our PEGylation protocol solves these problems by exploiting the chemical reactivity of both of the sulfur atoms in the disulfide bond of many biologically relevant proteins. An accessible disulfide bond is mildly reduced to liberate the two cysteine sulfur atoms without disturbing the protein's tertiary structure. Site-specific PEGylation is achieved with a bis-thiol alkylating PEG reagent that sequentially undergoes conjugation to form a three-carbon bridge. The two sulfur atoms are re-linked with PEG selectively conjugated to the bridge. PEGylation of a protein can be completed in 24 h and purification of the PEG-protein conjugate in another 3 h. We have successfully applied this approach to PEGylation of cytokines, enzymes, antibody fragments and peptides, without destroying their tertiary structure or abolishing their biological activity.