O-GlcNAc Engineering of GPCR Peptide-Agonists Improves Their Stability and in Vivo Activity

Paul M. Levine*, Aaron T. Balana, Emmanuel Sturchler, Cassandra Koole, Hiroshi Noda, Barbara Zarzycka, Eileen J. Daley, Tin T. Truong, Vsevolod Katritch, Thomas J. Gardella, Denise Wootten, Patrick M. Sexton, Patricia McDonald, Matthew R. Pratt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Peptide agonists of GPCRs and other receptors are powerful signaling molecules with high potential as biological tools and therapeutics, but they are typically plagued by instability and short half-lives in vivo. Nature uses protein glycosylation to increase the serum stability of secreted proteins. However, these extracellular modifications are complex and heterogeneous in structure, making them an impractical solution. In contrast, intracellular proteins are subjected to a simple version of glycosylation termed O-GlcNAc modification. In our studies of this modification, we found that O-GlcNAcylation inhibits proteolysis, and strikingly, this stabilization occurs despite large distances in primary sequence (10-15 amino acids) between the O-GlcNAc and the site of cleavage. We therefore hypothesized that this "remote stabilization" concept could be useful to engineer the stability and potentially additional properties of peptide or protein therapeutics. Here, we describe the application of O-GlcNAcylation to two clinically important peptides: Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and the parathyroid hormone (PTH), which respectively help control glucose and calcium levels in the blood. For both peptides, we found O-GlcNAcylated analogs that are equipotent to unmodified peptide in cell-based activation assays, while several GLP-1 analogs were biased agonists relative to GLP-1. As we predicted, O-GlcNAcylation can improve the stability of both GLP-1 and PTH in serum despite the fact that the O-GlcNAc can be quite remote from characterized sites of peptide cleavage. The O-GlcNAcylated GLP-1 and PTH also displayed significantly improved in vivo activity. Finally, we employed structure-based molecular modeling and receptor mutagenesis to predict how O-GlcNAcylation can be accommodated by the receptors and the potential interactions that contribute to peptide activity. This approach demonstrates the potential of O-GlcNAcylation for generating analogs of therapeutic peptides with enhanced proteolytic stability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14210-14219
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number36
Publication statusPublished - 11 Sept 2019
Externally publishedYes


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