Site-specific protein modifications are vital for biopharmaceutical drug development. Gluconoylation is a non-enzymatic, post-translational modification of N-terminal HisTags. We report high-yield, site-selective in vitro α-aminoacylation of peptides, glycoproteins, antibodies, and Virus-like particles (VLPs) with azidogluconolactone at pH 7.5 in 1 h. Conjugates slowly hydrolyse, but diol-masking with borate esters inhibits reversibility. In an example, we multimerise azidogluconoylated SARS-CoV-2 receptor-binding domain (RBD) onto VLPs via click-chemistry, to give a COVID-19 vaccine. Compared to yeast antigen, HEK-derived RBD was immunologically superior, likely due to observed differences in glycosylation. We show the benefits of ordered over randomly oriented multimeric antigen display, by demonstrating single-shot seroconversion and best virus-neutralizing antibodies. Azidogluconoylation is simple, fast and robust chemistry, and should accelerate research and development.
Keywords: Immunology; Nanoparticles; click chemistry; protein modifications; site-specific conjugation.
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