Mishandling of the therapeutic peptide glucagon generates cytotoxic amyloidogenic fibrils

Pharm Res. 2004 Jul;21(7):1274-83. doi: 10.1023/b:pham.0000033016.36825.2c.


Purpose: Some therapeutic peptides exhibit amyloidogenic properties that cause insolubility and cytotoxicity against neuronal cells in vitro. Here, we characterize the conformational change in monomeric therapeutic peptide to its fibrillar aggregate in order to prevent amyloidogenic formation during clinical application.

Methods: Therapeutic peptides including glucagon, porcine secretin, and salmon calcitonin were dissolved in acidic solution at concentrations ranging from 1 mg/ml to 80 mg/ml and then aged at 37 degrees C. Amyloidogenic properties were assessed by circular dichroism (CD), electron microscopy (EM), staining with beta-sheet-specific dyes, and size-exclusion chromatography (SEC). Cytotoxic characteristics were determined concomitantly.

Results: By aging at 2.5 mg/ml or higher for 24 h, monomeric glucagon was converted to fibrillar aggregates consisting of a beta-sheet-rich structure with multimeric states of glucagon. Although no aggregation was observed by aging at the clinical concentration of 1 mg/ml for 1 day, 30-day aging resulted in the generation of fibrillar aggregates. The addition of anti-glucagon serum significantly inhibited fibrillar conversion of monomeric glucagon. Glucagon fibrils induced significant cell death and activated an apoptotic enzyme, caspase-3, in PC12 cells and NIH-3T3 cells. Caspase inhibitors attenuated this toxicity in a dose-dependent manner, indicating the involvement of apoptotic signaling pathways in the fibrillar formation of glucagon. On the contrary to glucagon, salmon calcitonin exhibited aggregation at a much higher concentration of 40 mg/ml and secretin showed no aggregation at the concentration as high as 75 mg/ml.

Conclusions: These results indicated that glucagon was self-associated by its beta-sheet-rich intermolecular structure during the aging process under concentrated conditions to induce fibrillar aggregates. Glucagon has the same amyloidogenic propensities as pathologically related peptides such as beta-amyloid (Abeta)1-42 and prion protein fragment (PrP)106-126 including conformational change to a beta-sheet-rich structure and cytotoxic effects by activating caspases. These findings suggest that inappropriate preparation and application of therapeutic glucagon may cause undesirable insoluble products and side effects such as amyloidosis in clinical application.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Amyloid / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Amyloid / chemistry*
  • Amyloid / toxicity*
  • Amyloidosis / drug therapy
  • Animals
  • Calcitonin / chemistry
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspase Inhibitors
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Chromatography, Gel
  • Circular Dichroism
  • Glucagon / chemistry*
  • Glucagon / immunology
  • Glucagon / toxicity*
  • Heating
  • Humans
  • Immune Sera / immunology
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Protein Conformation
  • Secretin / chemistry
  • Time Factors
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Amyloid
  • Caspase Inhibitors
  • Immune Sera
  • Secretin
  • salmon calcitonin
  • Calcitonin
  • Glucagon
  • CASP3 protein, human
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases