Recombinant human lactoferrin carrying humanized glycosylation exhibits antileukemia selective cytotoxicity, microfilament disruption, cell cycle arrest, and apoptosis activities

Invest New Drugs. 2021 Apr;39(2):400-415. doi: 10.1007/s10637-020-01020-2. Epub 2020 Oct 16.


Lactoferrin has gained extensive attention due to its ample biological properties. In this study, recombinant human lactoferrin carrying humanized glycosylation (rhLf-h-glycan) expressed in the yeast Pichia pastoris SuperMan5, which is genetically glycoengineered to efficiently produce functional humanized glycoproteins inclosing (Man)5(GlcNAc)2 Asn-linked glycans, was analyzed, inspecting its potential toxicity against cancer cells. The live-cell differential nuclear staining assay was used to quantify the rhLf-h-glycan cytotoxicity, which was examined in four human cell lines: acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) CCRF-CEM, T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma SUP-T1, cervical adenocarcinoma HeLa, and as control, non-cancerous Hs27 cells. The defined CC50 values of rhLf-h-glycan in CCRF-CEM, SUP-T1, HeLa, and Hs27 cells were 144.45 ± 4.44, 548.47 ± 64.41, 350 ± 14.82, and 3359.07 ± 164 µg/mL, respectively. The rhLf-h-glycan exhibited a favorable selective cytotoxicity index (SCI), preferentially killing cancer cells: 23.25 for CCRF-CEM, 9.59 for HeLa, and 6.12 for SUP-T1, as compared with Hs27 cells. Also, rhLf-h-glycan showed significant antiproliferative activity (P < 0.0001) at 24, 48, and 72 h of incubation on CCRF-CEM cells. Additionally, it was observed via fluorescent staining and confocal microscopy that rhLf-h-glycan elicited apoptosis-associated morphological changes, such as blebbing, nuclear fragmentation, chromatin condensation, and apoptotic bodies in ALL cells. Furthermore, rhLf-h-glycan-treated HeLa cells revealed shrinkage of the microfilament structures, generating a speckled/punctuated pattern and also caused PARP-1 cleavage, a hallmark of apoptosis. Moreover, in ALL cells, rhLf-h-glycan altered cell cycle progression inducing the G2/M phase arrest, and caused apoptotic DNA fragmentation. Overall, our findings revealed that rhLf-h-glycan has potential as an anticancer agent and therefore deserves further in vivo evaluation.

Keywords: Apoptosis; Cancer; Cell cycle; Cytoskeleton; DNA fragmentation; Drug discovery; Humanized proteins.