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Bioconjug Chem. 2012 Aug 15;23(8):1567-76. doi: 10.1021/bc3000657. Epub 2012 Jul 16.

Surface charge-modification prevents sequestration and enhances tumor-cell specificity of a recombinant granzyme B-TGFα fusion protein.

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Chemotherapeutisches Forschungsinstitut Georg-Speyer-Haus, Paul-Ehrlich-Str. 42-44, 60596 Frankfurt am Main, Germany.


The serine protease granzyme B (GrB) plays an important role in the immune defense mediated by cytotoxic lymphocytes. Recombinant derivatives of this pro-apoptotic protein fused to tumor-targeting ligands hold promise for cancer therapy, but their applicability may be limited by promiscuous binding to nontarget tissues via electrostatic interactions. Here, we investigated cell binding and specific cytotoxicity of chimeric molecules consisting of wild-type or surface-charge-modified human GrB and the natural EGFR ligand TGFα for tumor targeting. We mutated two cationic heparin-binding motifs responsible for electrostatic interactions of GrB with cell surface structures, and genetically fused the resulting GrBcs derivative to TGFα for expression in the yeast Pichia pastoris. Purified GrBcs-TGFα (GrBcs-T) and a corresponding fusion protein employing wild-type GrB (GrB-T) displayed similar enzymatic activity and targeted cytotoxicity against EGFR-overexpressing breast carcinoma cells in the presence of an endosomolytic reagent. However, unspecific binding of the modified GrBcs-T variant to EGFR-negative cells was dramatically reduced, preventing the sequestration by nontarget cells in mixed cell cultures and increasing tumor-cell specificity. Likewise, modification of the GrB domain alleviated unspecific extracellular effects such as cell detachment indicative of extracellular matrix degradation. Our data demonstrate improved selectivity and functionality of surface-charge-modified GrBcs, suggesting this strategy as a general approach for the development of optimized GrB fusion proteins for therapeutic applications.

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