Transglutaminase-based chemo-enzymatic conjugation approach yields homogeneous antibody-drug conjugates

Bioconjug Chem. 2014 Mar 19;25(3):569-78. doi: 10.1021/bc400574z. Epub 2014 Feb 12.


Most chemical techniques used to produce antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) result in a heterogeneous mixture of species with variable drug-to-antibody ratios (DAR) which will potentially display different pharmacokinetics, stability, and safety profiles. Here we investigated two strategies to obtain homogeneous ADCs based on site-specific modification of deglycosylated antibodies by microbial transglutaminase (MTGase), which forms isopeptidic bonds between Gln and Lys residues. We have previously shown that MTGase solely recognizes Gln295 within the heavy chain of IgGs as a substrate and can therefore be exploited to generate ADCs with an exact DAR of 2. The first strategy included the direct, one-step attachment of the antimitotic toxin monomethyl auristatin E (MMAE) to the antibody via different spacer entities with a primary amine functionality that is recognized as a substrate by MTGase. The second strategy was a chemo-enzymatic, two-step approach whereby a reactive spacer entity comprising a bio-orthogonal thiol or azide function was attached to the antibody by MTGase and subsequently reacted with a suitable MMAE-derivative. To this aim, we investigated two different chemical approaches, namely, thiol-maleimide and strain-promoted azide-alkyne cycloaddition (SPAAC). Direct enzymatic attachment of MMAE-spacer derivatives at an 80 molar excess of drug yielded heterogeneous ADCs with a DAR of between 1.0 to 1.6. In contrast to this, the chemo-enzymatic approach only required a 2.5 molar excess of toxin to yield homogeneous ADCs with a DAR of 2.0 in the case of SPAAC and 1.8 for the thiol-maleimide approach. As a proof-of-concept, trastuzumab (Herceptin) was armed with the MMAE via the chemo-enzymatic approach using SPAAC and tested in vitro. Trastuzumab-MMAE efficiently killed BT-474 and SK-BR-3 cells with an IC50 of 89.0 pM and 21.7 pM, respectively. Thus, the chemo-enzymatic approach using MTGase is an elegant strategy to form ADCs with a defined DAR of 2. Furthermore, the approach is directly applicable to a broad variety of antibodies as it does not require prior genetic modifications of the antibody sequence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alkynes / chemistry
  • Alkynes / metabolism
  • Antibodies / chemistry*
  • Antibodies / metabolism
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / chemistry*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / metabolism
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / metabolism
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Azides / chemistry
  • Azides / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Screening Assays, Antitumor
  • Humans
  • Maleimides / chemistry
  • Maleimides / metabolism
  • Molecular Structure
  • Oligopeptides / chemistry*
  • Oligopeptides / metabolism
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / chemistry
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / metabolism
  • Transglutaminases / chemistry*
  • Transglutaminases / metabolism
  • Trastuzumab


  • Alkynes
  • Antibodies
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Azides
  • Maleimides
  • Oligopeptides
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds
  • Transglutaminases
  • Trastuzumab
  • monomethyl auristatin E