In vivo evaluation of site-specifically PEGylated chemically self-assembled protein nanostructures

Rachit Shah, Jacob Petersburg, Amit C. Gangar, Adrian Fegan, Carston R. Wagner, Sidath C. Kumarapperuma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Chemically self-assembled nanorings (CSANs) are made of dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) fusion proteins and have been successfully used in vitro for cellular cargo delivery and cell surface engineering applications. However, CSANs have yet to be evaluated for their in vivo stability, circulation, and tissue distribution. In an effort to evaluate CSANs in vivo, we engineered a site-specifically PEGylated epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) targeting DHFR molecules, characterized their self-assembly into CSANs with bivalent methotrexates (bis-MTX), visualized their in vivo tissue localization by microPET/CT imaging, and determined their ex vivo organ biodistribution by tissue-based gamma counting. A dimeric DHFR (DHFR2) molecule fused with a C-terminal EGFR targeting peptide (LARLLT) was engineered to incorporate a site-specific ketone functionality using unnatural amino acid mutagenesis. Aminooxy-PEG, of differing chain lengths, was successfully conjugated to the protein using oxime chemistry. These proteins were self-assembled into CSANs with bis-MTX DHFR dimerizers and characterized by size exclusion chromatography and dynamic light scattering. In vitro binding studies were performed with fluorescent CSANs assembled using bis-MTX-FITC, while in vivo microPET/CT imaging was performed with radiolabeled CSANs assembled using bis-MTX-DOTA[64Cu]. PEGylation reduced the uptake of anti-EGFR CSANs by mouse macrophages (RAW 264.7) up to 40% without altering the CSAN's binding affinity toward U-87 MG glioblastoma cells in vitro. A significant time dependent tumor accumulation of 64Cu labeled anti-EGFR-CSANs was observed by microPET/CT imaging and biodistribution studies in mice bearing U-87 MG xenografts. PEGylated CSANs demonstrated a reduced uptake by the liver, kidneys, and spleen resulting in high contrast tumor imaging within an hour of intravenous injection (9.6% ID/g), and continued to increase up to 24 h (11.7% ID/g) while the background signal diminished. CSANs displayed an in vivo profile between those of rapidly clearing small molecules and slow clearing antibodies. Thus, CSANs offer a modular, programmable, and stable protein based platform that can be used for in vivo drug delivery and imaging applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2193-2203
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular Pharmaceutics
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 5 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 American Chemical Society.


  • EGFR targeting
  • PEGylation
  • PET imaging
  • drug delivery
  • nanomedicine
  • protein nanostructures
  • self-assembly


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