Electrophoresis, Vol.36, No.2, 371-374, 2015
Loss of PEG chain in routine SDS-PAGE analysis of PEG-maleimide modified protein
SDS-PAGE represents a quick and simple method for qualitative and quantitative analysis of protein and protein-containing conjugates, mostly pegylated proteins. PEG-maleimide (MAL) is frequently used to site-specifically pegylate therapeutic proteins via free cysteine residue by forming a thiosuccinimide structure for pursuing homogeneous products. The C-S linkage between protein and PEG-MAL is generally thought to be relatively stable. However, loss of intact PEG chain in routine SDS-PAGE analysis of PEG-maleimide modified protein was observed. It is a thiol-independent thioether cleavage and the shedding of PEG chain exclusively happens to PEG-MAL modified conjugates although PEG-vinylsulfone conjugates to thiol-containing proteins also through a C-S linkage. Cleavage kinetics of PEG40k-MAL modified ciliary neurotrophic factor showed this kind of degradation could immediately happen even in 1 min incubation at high temperature and could be detected at physiological temperature and pH, although the rate was relatively slow. This may provide another degradation route for maleimide-thiol conjugate irrespective of reactive thiol, although the specific mechanism is still not very clear for us. It would also offer a basis for accurate characterization of PEG-MAL modified protein/peptide by SDS-PAGE analysis.