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Polymer-protein conjugates are a class of biohybrids with unique properties that are highly useful in biomedicine ranging from protein therapeutics to biomedical imaging; however, it remains a considerable challenge to conjugate polymers to proteins in a site-specific, mild, and efficient way to form polymer-protein conjugates with uniform structures and properties and optimal functions. Herein we report pyridine-2,6-dicarboxaldehyde (PDA)-enabled N-terminal modification of proteins with polymerization initiators for in situ growth of poly(oligo(ethylene glycol)methyl ether methacrylate) (POEGMA) conjugates uniquely at the N-termini of a range of natural and recombinant proteins in a mild and efficient fashion. The formed POEGMA-protein conjugates showed highly retained in vitro bioactivity as compared with free proteins. Notably, the in vitro bioactivity of a POEGMA-interferon α (IFN) conjugate synthesized by this new chemistry is 8.1-fold higher than that of PEGASYS that is a commercially available and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved PEGylated IFN. The circulation half-life of the conjugate is similar to that of PEGASYS but is 46.2 times longer than that of free IFN. Consequently, the conjugate exhibits considerably improved antiviral bioactivity over free IFN and even PEGASYS in a mouse model. These results indicate that the PDA-enabled N-terminal grafting-from method is applicable to a number of proteins whose active sites are far away from the N-terminus for the synthesis of N-terminal polymer-protein conjugates with high yield, well-retained activity, and considerably improved pharmacology for biomedical applications.


Jiawei Sun, Xinyu Liu, Jianwen Guo, Wenguo Zhao, Weiping Gao. Pyridine-2,6-dicarboxaldehyde-Enabled N-Terminal In Situ Growth of Polymer-Interferon α Conjugates with Significantly Improved Pharmacokinetics and In Vivo Bioactivity. ACS applied materials & interfaces. 2021 Jan 13;13(1):88-96

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PMID: 33382581

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