Glycosylation is considered a critical quality attribute of therapeutic proteins. Protein heterogeneity introduced by glycosylation includes differences in the nature, number and position of the glycans. Whereas analysis of released glycans and glycopeptides provides information about the composition and/or position of the glycan, intact glycoprotein analysis allows assignment of individual proteoforms and co-occurring modifications. Yet, resolving protein glycoforms at the intact level is challenging. We have explored the capacity of hydrophilic liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (HILIC-MS) for assessing glycosylation patterns of intact pharmaceutical proteins by analyzing the complex glycoproteins interferon-beta-1a (rhIFN-β − 1a) and recombinant human erythropoietin (rhEPO). Efficient glycoform separation was achieved using a superficially-porous amide HILIC stationary phase and trifluoroacetic acid (TFA) as eluent additive. In-source collision-induced dissociation proved to be very useful to minimize protein-signal suppression effects by TFA. Direct injection of therapeutic proteins in aqueous formulation was possible without causing extra band dispersion, provided that the sample injection volume was not larger than 2 μL. HILIC-MS of rhIFN-β − 1a and rhEPO allowed the assignment of, respectively, 15 and 51 glycoform compositions, next to a variety of posttranslational modifications, such as succinimide, oxidation and N-terminal methionine-loss products. MS-based assignments showed that neutral glycan units significantly contributed to glycoform separation, whereas terminal sialic acids only had a marginal effect on HILIC retention. Comparisons of HILIC-MS with the selectivity provided by capillary electrophoresis-MS for the same glycoproteins, revealed a remarkable complementarity of the techniques. Finally it was demonstrated that by replacing TFA for difluoroacetic acid, peak resolution somewhat decreased, but rhEPO glycoforms with relative abundances below 1% could be detected by HILIC-MS, increasing the overall rhEPO glycoform coverage to 72.
- Hydrophilic interaction liquid chromatography
- Intact glycoproteins
- Interferon-β − 1a
- Mass spectrometry