We present an electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopic characterization of structural and dynamic effects that stem from post-translational modifications of bovine serum albumin (BSA), an established model system for polymer–protein conjugation. Beyond the typical drug delivery and biocompatibility aspect of such systems, we illustrate the causes that alter internal dynamics and therefore functionality in terms of ligand-binding to the BSA protein core. Uptake of the paramagnetic fatty acid derivative 16-doxyl stearic acid by several BSA-based squaric acid macroinitiators and polymer–protein conjugates was studied by EPR spectroscopy, aided by dynamic light scattering (DLS) and zeta potential measurements. The conjugates were grafted from oligo(ethylene glycol) methyl ether methacrylate (OEGMA), forming an overall core–shell-like structure. It is found that ligand-binding and associated parameters such as binding affinity, cooperativity, and the number of binding sites of BSA change drastically with the extent of surface modification. In the course of processing BSA, the ligands also change their preference for individual binding sites, as observed from a comparative view of their spatial alignments in double electron electron resonance (DEER) experiments. The protein-attached polymers constitute a diffusion barrier that significantly hamper ligand uptake. Moreover, zeta potentials (ζ) decrease linearly with the degree of surface modification in protein macroinitiators and an effective dielectric constant can be estimated for the polymer layer in the conjugates. All this suggests that ligand uptake characteristics in BSA can be fine-tuned by the extent and nature of such post-translational modifications (PTMs). We show that EPR spectroscopy is suitable for quantifying these subtle PTM-based functional effects from self-assembly of substrate and ligand.
Reichenwallner, J., Thomas, A., Steinbach, T., Eisermann, J., Schmelzer, C. E. H., Wurm, F., & Hinderberger, D. (2019). Ligand-Binding Cooperativity Effects in Polymer–Protein Conjugation. Biomacromolecules, 20(2), 1118-1131. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.biomac.9b00016