Open Access Research article

Stable high volumetric production of glycosylated human recombinant IFNalpha2b in HEK293 cells

Martin Loignon1, Sylvie Perret1, John Kelly2, Denise Boulais1, Brian Cass1, Louis Bisson1, Fatemeh Afkhamizarreh13 and Yves Durocher1*

Author Affiliations

1 National Research Council Canada, Animal Cell Technology Group, Bioprocess Sector, Biotechnology Research Institute, 6100 Royalmount Ave., Montreal, QC, H4P 2R2, Canada

2 Institute for Biological Sciences 100 Sussex Drive, Room 3100 Ottawa, ON K1A 0R6, Canada

3 Department of Biomedical Engineering, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University, 3775 University Street, Montreal, QC H3A 2B4, Canada

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BMC Biotechnology 2008, 8:65  doi:10.1186/1472-6750-8-65

Published: 27 August 2008



Mammalian cells are becoming the prevailing expression system for the production of recombinant proteins because of their capacity for proper protein folding, assembly, and post-translational modifications. These systems currently allow high volumetric production of monoclonal recombinant antibodies in the range of grams per litre. However their use for large-scale expression of cytokines typically results in much lower volumetric productivity.


We have engineered a HEK293 cell clone for high level production of human recombinant glycosylated IFNα2b and developed a rapid and efficient method for its purification. This clone steadily produces more than 200 mg (up to 333 mg) of human recombinant IFNα2b per liter of serum-free culture, which can be purified by a single-step cation-exchange chromatography following media acidification and clarification. This rapid procedure yields 98% pure IFNα2b with a recovery greater than 70%. Purified IFNα2b migrates on SDS-PAGE as two species, a major 21 kDa band and a minor 19 kDa band. N-terminal sequences of both forms are identical and correspond to the expected mature protein. Purified IFNα2b elutes at neutral pH as a single peak with an apparent molecular weight of 44,000 Da as determined by size-exclusion chromatography. The presence of intramolecular and absence of intermolecular disulfide bridges is evidenced by the fact that non-reduced IFNα2b has a greater electrophoretic mobility than the reduced form. Treatment of purified IFNα2b with neuraminidase followed by O-glycosidase both increases electrophoretic mobility, indicating the presence of sialylated O-linked glycan. A detailed analysis of glycosylation by mass spectroscopy identifies disialylated and monosialylated forms as the major constituents of purified IFNα2b. Electron transfer dissociation (ETD) shows that the glycans are linked to the expected threonine at position 106. Other minor glycosylated forms and non-sialylated species are also detected, similar to IFNα2b produced naturally by lymphocytes. Further, the HEK293-produced IFNα2b is biologically active as shown with reporter gene and antiviral assays.


These results show that the HEK293 cell line is an efficient and valuable host for the production of biologically active and glycosylated human IFNα2b.