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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Jan 2;110(1):46-51. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1213186110. Epub 2012 Dec 13.

A Pictet-Spengler ligation for protein chemical modification.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.


Aldehyde- and ketone-functionalized proteins are appealing substrates for the development of chemically modified biotherapeutics and protein-based materials. Their reactive carbonyl groups are typically conjugated with α-effect nucleophiles, such as substituted hydrazines and alkoxyamines, to generate hydrazones and oximes, respectively. However, the resulting C=N linkages are susceptible to hydrolysis under physiologically relevant conditions, which limits the utility of such conjugates in biological systems. Here we introduce a Pictet-Spengler ligation that is based on the classic Pictet-Spengler reaction of aldehydes and tryptamine nucleophiles. The ligation exploits the bioorthogonal reaction of aldehydes and alkoxyamines to form an intermediate oxyiminium ion; this intermediate undergoes intramolecular C-C bond formation with an indole nucleophile to form an oxacarboline product that is hydrolytically stable. We used the reaction for site-specific chemical modification of glyoxyl- and formylglycine-functionalized proteins, including an aldehyde-tagged variant of the therapeutic monoclonal antibody Herceptin. In conjunction with techniques for site-specific introduction of aldehydes into proteins, the Pictet-Spengler ligation offers a means to generate stable bioconjugates for medical and materials applications.

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