Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Embargo Period


Degree Program

Molecular & Cellular Biology

Degree Type

Master of Science (M.S.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



The number of transferrin based therapeutics progressing to clinical trials remains disappointingly small despite promising capabilities of transporting therapeutic payloads to cancer cells and across the blood brain barrier. This meager success record is largely due to the complexity and heterogeneity of all protein conjugation products that generates difficulties for their analytical characterization. Discussed in this work, transferrin is conjugated to lysozyme as a model therapeutic to deliver this bacteriostatic protein to target central nervous system infections. In this work ESI- and MALDI-MS were used to characterize the modification sites at lysine residues in hopes of characterizing heterogeneity within the conjugate. Identification and quantization of modification sites using MS on tryptic digested samples proved difficult with poor signal to noise ratios and missing peptide fragments. The use of an 18O labeling method that exchanges both C-terminal oxygen atoms with 18O provided more reliable results, but still proved difficult to observe all needed peptide fragments. MALDI-MS allowed for verification of ESI-MS results, but was found unhelpful with full characterization due to abundant overlapping of isotopic labeled peaks. Hoping to create an ideal 1:1 binding ratio between the two proteins, a site-specific modification method using kinetically controlled conditions was used and was confirmed that the method, although capable of producing 1:1 conjugated species, actually created different isomers with separate binding frequencies at each lysine. Online-IEC helped with the identification of isomers and started the initial work of correlating modification sites with bioactivity of the proteins. It was determined that lysozyme has a high chance of being modified at lysine 33 and 116, with a possibility of also being highly modified at lysine 97. More work is needed to complete the characterization, especially with transferrin, but the experimental approaches developed in this work prove to be promising. This work aims at delivering an optimized framework for analytical characterization of protein and antibody conjugates to guide the development of future biopharmaceuticals.

First Advisor

Igor A Kaltashov

Included in

Biochemistry Commons