Engineering receptor-mediated cytotoxicity into human ribonucleases by steric blockade of inhibitor interaction

Nat Biotechnol. 1999 Mar;17(3):265-70. doi: 10.1038/7010.


Several nonmammalian members of the RNase A superfamily exhibit anticancer activity that appears to correlate with resistance to the cytosolic ribonuclease inhibitor (RI). We mutated two human ribonucleases-pancreatic RNase (hRNAse) and eosinophil-derived neurotoxin (EDN)-to incorporate cysteine residues at putative sites of close contact to RI, but distant from the catalytic sites. Coupling of Cys89 of RNase and Cys87 of EDN to proteins at these sites via a thioether bond produced enzymatically active conjugates that were resistant to RI. To elicit cellular targeting as well as to block RI binding, transferrin was conjugated to a mutant human RNase, rhRNase(Gly89)-->Cys) and a mutant EDN (Thr87-->Cys). The transferrin-rhRNase(Gly89-->Cys) thioether conjugate was 5000-fold more toxic to U251 cells than recombinant wild-type hRNase. In addition, transferrin-targeted EDN exhibited tumor cell toxicities similar to those of hRNase. Thus, we endowed two human RI-sensitive RNases with greater cytotoxicity by increasing their resistance to RI. This strategy has the potential to generate a novel set of recombinant human proteins useful for targeted therapy of cancer.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Eosinophil-Derived Neurotoxin
  • Glioma / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Inhibitory Concentration 50
  • Kinetics
  • Leucine / metabolism
  • Models, Molecular
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed
  • Plasmids
  • Protein Engineering
  • Proteins / genetics*
  • Proteins / pharmacology
  • Receptors, Transferrin / immunology
  • Recombinant Proteins / metabolism
  • Ribonuclease, Pancreatic / genetics*
  • Ribonuclease, Pancreatic / pharmacology
  • Ribonucleases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Swine
  • Transferrin / therapeutic use
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Proteins
  • Receptors, Transferrin
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Transferrin
  • Eosinophil-Derived Neurotoxin
  • Ribonucleases
  • Ribonuclease, Pancreatic
  • Leucine