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New method for quicker and simpler production of lipidated proteins

10/11/2019 | TU Graz news | Research

By Christoph Pelzl

The new method developed at TU Graz and the University of Vienna is leading to a better understanding of natural protein modifications and improved protein therapeutics.

In the Journal of the American Chemical Society, researchers from Graz University of Technology and University of Vienna present a new method for the production of lipid proteins. Compared to established methods, this method impresses with its simplicity in implementation and its flexibility in application © TU Graz/ORGC

Additional pictures for download at the end of the text

Some of the body’s proteins are not just made up of amino acids, they are also ‘decorated’ with lipid chains, which significantly influence the biological functions of the protein. An example is the Ras protein, which plays a role in the development of many types of cancers and is only active and cancer-causing if it is able to bind to the cell membrane with the help of a ‘lipid anchor’.  

Fundamental research as a basis for medical progress

Gaining a better understanding of these processes in the human body can greatly accelerate the development of new medicines and cancer therapies. However, the methods of investigation employed up to now have proven very time-consuming and costly. Rolf Breinbauer from TU Graz’s Institute of Organic Chemistry and Christian Becker from the Institute of Biological Chemistry at the University of Vienna have come up with a much simpler and direct method of introducing lipids into protein, which they recently published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS).

A noble metal for protein modification

The researchers used the noble metal palladium as a catalyst for attaching lipids to proteins. BIPHEPHOS a type of ligand, plays a crucial role in the process, explains Breinbauer: “We tested a total of 50 different ligands. BIPHEPHOS was kind of the ‘missing link’. It has the selectivity needed for palladium to facilitate the lipidation of the sulphurous amino acid cysteine.”  

Protein chemist Christian Becker applied what they had learned to proteins, with equally successful results: “The outstanding selectivity of the new catalyst and the robust reaction facilitate the rapid modification of numerous cysteine-containing peptides and proteins for use in biomedical research.”

Medical application

Decorating proteins with pharmaceuticals and other molecules for targeted delivery into the body and for keeping them active is an approach commonly used in medicine today. The method developed by Breinbauer and Becker could now be used to accurately and efficiently introduce such molecules into proteins. Breinbauer is confident that their method will soon be adopted because “the reagents we used are very easy to manufacture or can be purchased.”

This research project is a stand-alone project funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and is part of the Human & Biotechnology Field of Expertise (FoE), one of five research focuses at TU Graz, as well as the Biology and Medical Chemistry research focus of the Faculty of Chemistry at the University of Vienna.


Original publication: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/jacs.9b08279


TU Graz contact
Univ.-Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Dr.rer.nat.
Institute of Organic Chemistry | TU Graz
+43 316 873 32400
Email: breinbauernoSpam@tugraz.at

University of Vienna contact
Christian F.W. BECKER
Univ.-Prof. Dr.
Institute of Biological Chemistry | University of Vienna
Tel.: +43 1 4277 70510

Together with their working groups, Rolf Breinbauer (TU Graz’s Institute of Organic Chemistry, left) and Christian Becker (Institute of Biological Chemistry at University of Vienna) are responsible for the success of the research © University of Vienna/Institute of Biological Chemistry
Lead author Julia Kriegesmann from the Institute of Biological Chemistry at the University of Vienna © University of Vienna/Institute of Biological Chemistry
Lead author Thomas Schlatzer from TU Graz’s Institute of Organic Chemistry © TU Graz/ORGC