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Substrates and controls for the quantitative detection of active botulinum neurotoxin in protease-containing samples

Bagramyan, K;Kaplan, BE;Cheng, LW;Strotmeier, J;Rummel, A;Kalkum, M;

Botulinum neurotoxins (BoNTs) are used in a wide variety of medical applications, but there is limited pharmacokinetic data on active BoNT. Monitoring BoNT activity in the circulation is challenging because BoNTs are highly toxic and are rapidly taken up by neurons and removed from the bloodstream. Previously we reported a sensitive BoNT Assay with a Large Immunosorbent Surface Area that uses conversion of fluorogenic peptide substrates to measure the intrinsic endopeptidase activity of bead-captured BoNT. However, in complex biological samples, protease contaminants can also cleave the substrates, reducing sensitivity and specificity of the assay. Here, we present a novel set of fluorogenic peptides that serve as BoNT-specific substrates and protease-sensitive controls. BoNT-cleavable substrates contain a C-terminal Nle, while BoNT-noncleavable controls contain its isomer -Ahx. The substrates are cleaved by BoNT subtypes A1-A3 and A5. Substrates and control peptides can be cleaved by non-BoNT proteases (e.g., trypsin, proteinase K, and thermolysin) while obeying Michaelis-Menten kinetics. Using this novel substrate/control set, we studied BoNT/A1 activity in two mouse models of botulism. We detected BoNT/A serum activities ranging from ~3600 to 10 amol/L in blood of mice that had been intravenously injected 1 h prior with BoNT/A1 complex (100 to 4 pg/mouse). We also detected the endopeptidase activity of orally administered BoNT/A1 complex (1 g) in blood 5 h after administration; activity was greatest 7 h after administration. Redistribution and elevation rates for active toxin were measured and are comparable to those reported for inactive toxin.