Alena Istrate, Michael B. Geeson, Claudio D. Navo, Barbara B. Sousa, Marta C. Marques, Ross J. Taylor, Toby Journeaux, Sebastian R. Oehler, Michael R. Mortensen, Michael J. Deery, Andrew D. Bond, Francisco Corzana, Gonzalo Jiménez-Osés, and Gonçalo J. L. Bernardes
Journal of the American Chemical Society 2022DOI: 10.1021/jacs.2c02185
Protein conjugates are valuable tools for studying biological processes or producing therapeutics, such as antibody–drug conjugates. Despite the development of several protein conjugation strategies in recent years, the ability to modify one specific amino acid residue on a protein in the presence of other reactive side chains remains a challenge. We show that monosubstituted cyclopropenone (CPO) reagents react selectively with the 1,2-aminothiol groups of N-terminal cysteine residues to give a stable 1,4-thiazepan-5-one linkage under mild, biocompatible conditions. The CPO-based reagents, all accessible from a common activated ester CPO-pentafluorophenol (CPO-PFP), allow selective modification of N-terminal cysteine-containing peptides and proteins even in the presence of internal, solvent-exposed cysteine residues. This approach enabled the preparation of a dual protein conjugate of 2×cys-GFP, containing both internal and N-terminal cysteine residues, by first modifying the N-terminal residue with a CPO-based reagent followed by modification of the internal cysteine with a traditional cysteine-modifying reagent. CPO-based reagents enabled a copper-free click reaction between two proteins, producing a dimer of a de novo protein mimic of IL2 that binds to the β-IL2 receptor with low nanomolar affinity. Importantly, the reagents are compatible with the common reducing agent dithiothreitol (DTT), a useful property for working with proteins prone to dimerization. Finally, quantum mechanical calculations uncover the origin of selectivity for CPO-based reagents for N-terminal cysteine residues. The ability to distinguish and specifically target N-terminal cysteine residues on proteins facilitates the construction of elaborate multilabeled bioconjugates with minimal protein engineering.