Neutropenia is a common adverse event in cancer patients treated with antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) and we aimed to elucidate the potential mechanism of this toxicity. To investigate if ADCs affect neutrophil production from bone marrow, an in vitro assay was developed in which hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) were differentiated to neutrophils. Several antibodies against targets absent in HSCs and neutrophils were conjugated to MMAE via a cleavable valine-citrulline linker (vcMMAE-ADCs) or MMAF via a non-cleavable maleimidocaproyl linker (mcMMAF-ADCs), and their cytotoxicity was tested in the neutrophil differentiation assay. Results showed that HSCs had similar sensitivity to vcMMAE-ADCs and mcMMAF-ADCs; however, vcMMAE-ADCs were more cytotoxic to differentiating neutrophils than the same antibody conjugated to mcMMAF. This inhibitory effect was not mediated by internalization of ADC either by macropinocytosis or FcγRs. Our results suggested that extracellular proteolysis of the cleavable valine-citrulline linker is responsible for the cytotoxicity to differentiating neutrophils. Mass spectrometry analyses indicated that free MMAE was released from vcMMAE-ADCs in the extracellular compartment when they were incubated with differentiating neutrophils or neutrophil conditioned medium, but not with HSC conditioned medium. Using different protease inhibitors, our data suggested that serine, but not cysteine proteases, were responsible for the cleavage. In vitro experiments demonstrated that the purified serine protease, elastase, was capable of releasing free MMAE from a vcMMAE-ADC. Here we propose that ADCs containing protease cleavable linkers can contribute to neutropenia via extracellular cleavage mediated by serine proteases secreted by differentiating neutrophils in bone marrow.
- Received February 10, 2017.
- Revision received May 3, 2017.
- Accepted May 5, 2017.
- Copyright ©2017, American Association for Cancer Research.