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Biochemistry. 2011 Nov 29;50(47):10293-9. doi: 10.1021/bi200979k. Epub 2011 Nov 4.

Arginine residues are more effective than lysine residues in eliciting the cellular uptake of onconase.

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Medical Scientist Training Program and Biophysics Graduate Program, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, United States.


Onconase is an amphibian member of the pancreatic ribonuclease family of enzymes that is in clinical trials for the treatment of cancer. Onconase, which has an abundance of lysine residues, is internalized by cancer cells through endocytosis in a mechanism similar to that of cell-penetrating peptides. Here, we compare the effect of lysine versus arginine residues on the biochemical attributes necessary for Onconase to elicit its cytotoxic activity. In the variant R-Onconase, 10 of the 12 lysine residues in Onconase are replaced with arginine, leaving only the two active-site lysines intact. Cytometric assays quantifying internalization showed a 3-fold increase in the internalization of R-Onconase compared with Onconase. R-Onconase also showed greater affinity for heparin and a 2-fold increase in ribonucleolytic activity. Nonetheless, arginine substitution endowed only a slight increase in toxicity toward human cancer cells. Analysis of denaturation induced with guanidine-HCl showed that R-Onconase has less conformational stability than does the wild-type enzyme; moreover, R-Onconase is more susceptible to proteolytic degradation. These data indicate that arginine residues are more effective than lysine in eliciting cellular internalization but can compromise other aspects of protein structure and function.

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