Convergent potency of internalized gelonin immunotoxins across varied cell lines, antigens, and targeting moieties

Christopher M. Pirie, Benjamin J. Hackel, Michael G. Rosenblum, K. Dane Wittrup

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Gelonin-based immunotoxins vary widely in their cytotoxic potency as a function of antigen density, target cell internalization and trafficking kinetics, and conjugate properties. We have synthesized novel gelonin immunotoxins using two different binding scaffold types (single-chain antibody variable fragments and fibronectin domains) targeting two different tumor antigens (carcinoembryonic antigen and EGF receptor). Constructs were characterized using an antigen-negative cell line (HT-1080), cell lines positive for each antigen (HT-1080 (CEA) for carcinoembryonic antigen and A431 for EGF receptor), and a cell line positive for both antigens (HT-29). Immunotoxins exhibited Kd values between 8 and 15 nM and showed 20-2000-fold enhanced cytotoxicity compared with gelonin (IC50 ∼ 0.25-30 nM versus 500 nM). Using quantitative fluorescence flow cytometry, we measured internalization of gelonin (via pinocytosis) and gelonin-based immunotoxins (via antigen-dependent, receptor-mediated endocytosis). Results were matched with cytotoxicity measurements made at equivalent concentration and exposures. Unexpectedly, when matched internalization and cytotoxicity data were combined, a conserved internalized cytotoxicity curve was generated that was common across experimental conditions. Considerable variations in antigen expression, trafficking kinetics, extracellular immunotoxin concentration, and exposure time were all found to collapse to a single potency curve on the basis of internalized immunotoxin. Fifty percent cytotoxicity occurred when ∼5 × 106 toxin molecules were internalized regardless of the mechanism of uptake. Cytotoxicity observed at a threshold internalization was consistent with the hypothesis that endosomal escape is a common, highly inefficient, rate-limiting step following internalization by any means tested. Methods designed to enhance endosomal escape might be utilized to improve the potency of gelonin-based immunotoxins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4165-4172
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number6
StatePublished - Feb 11 2011


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