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J Mass Spectrom. 2017 Feb;52(2):78-93. doi: 10.1002/jms.3902.

De novo sequencing of highly modified therapeutic oligonucleotides by hydrophobic tag sequencing coupled with LC-MS.

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Bioanalysis Business Department, CMIC Pharma Science Co., Ltd., 17-18, Nakahata-cho, Nishiwaki-shi, Hyogo, 677-0032, Japan.
Exploratory Research Laboratory, RIBOMIC Inc., 3-16-13, Shirokanedai, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 108-0071, Japan.
Bioanalysis Department, CMIC, Inc., Hoffman Estates, Illinois, 60192-3702, USA.
Institute of Medical Science, The University of Tokyo, 4-6-1 Shirokanedai, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 108-8639, Japan.


Correct sequences are prerequisite for quality control of therapeutic oligonucleotides. However, there is no definitive method available for determining sequences of highly modified therapeutic RNAs, and thereby, most of the oligonucleotides have been used clinically without direct sequence determination. In this study, we developed a novel sequencing method called 'hydrophobic tag sequencing'. Highly modified oligonucleotides are sequenced by partially digesting oligonucleotides conjugated with a 5'-hydrophobic tag, followed by liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis. 5'-Hydrophobic tag-printed fragments (5'-tag degradates) can be separated in order of their molecular masses from tag-free oligonucleotides by reversed-phase liquid chromatography. As models for the sequencing, the anti-VEGF aptamer (Macugen) and the highly modified 38-mer RNA sequences were analyzed under blind conditions. Most nucleotides were identified from the molecular weight of hydrophobic 5'-tag degradates calculated from monoisotopic mass in simple full mass data. When monoisotopic mass could not be assigned, the nucleotide was estimated using the molecular weight of the most abundant mass. The sequences of Macugen and 38-mer RNA perfectly matched the theoretical sequences. The hydrophobic tag sequencing worked well to obtain simple full mass data, resulting in accurate and clear sequencing. The present study provides for the first time a de novo sequencing technology for highly modified RNAs and contributes to quality control of therapeutic oligonucleotides.


LC-MS; de novo sequencing; hydrophobic tag sequencing; modified oligonucleotides; quality control

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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