Transferrin trojan horses as a rational approach for the biological delivery of therapeutic peptide domains
S A Ali, H C Joao, F Hammerschmid, J Eder, A Steinkasserer
One novel approach for the biological delivery of peptide drugs is to incorporate the sequence of the peptide into the structure of a natural transport protein, such as human serum transferrin. To examine whether this is feasible, a peptide sequence cleavable by the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 protease (VSQNYPIVL) was inserted into various regions of human serum transferrin, and the resultant proteins were tested for function. Experimentally, molecular modeling was used to identify five candidate insertion sites in surface exposed loops of human serum transferrin that were distant from biologically active domains. These insertions were cloned using polymerase chain reaction mutagenesis, and the proteins were expressed using a baculovirus expression vector system. Analysis of the mutant proteins provided a number of important findings: (a) they retained native human serum transferrin function, (b) the inserted peptide sequence was surface exposed, and most importantly, (c) two of these mutants could be cleaved by human immunodeficiency virus-1 protease. In conclusion, this investigation has validated the use of human serum transferrin as a carrier protein for functional peptide domains introduced into its structure using protein engineering. These findings will be useful for developing a novel class of therapeutic agents for a broad spectrum of diseases.