The chemical modification of proteins is an effective technique for manipulating the properties and functions of proteins, and for creating protein-based materials. The N-terminus is a promising target for single-site modification that provides modified proteins with uniform structures and properties. In this paper, a copper(II)-mediated aldol reaction with 2-pyridinecarboxaldehyde (2-PC) derivatives is proposed as an operationally simple method to selectively modify the N-terminus of peptides and proteins at room temperature and physiological pH. The copper(II) ion activates the N-terminal amino acids by complexation with an imine of the N-terminal amino acid and 2-PCs, realizing the selective formation of the nucleophilic intermediate at the N-terminus. This results in a stable carbon-carbon bond between the 2-PCs and the α-carbon of various N-terminal amino acids. The reaction is applied to four different proteins, including biopharmaceuticals such as filgrastim and trastuzumab. The modified trastuzumab retains the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 recognition activity.
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