Sialylation of N-glycans associated with recombinant human acetylcholinesterase (rHuAChE) has a central role in determining its circulatory clearance rate. Human embryonal kidney 293 (HEK-293) cells, which are widely used for the expression of recombinant proteins, seem to be limited in their ability to sialylate overexpressed rHuAChE. High-resolution N-glycan structural analysis, by gel permeation, HPLC anion-exchange chromatography and high-pH anion-exchange chromatography (HPAEC), revealed that the N-glycans associated with rHuAChE produced in HEK-293 cells belong mainly to the complex-biantennary class and are only partly sialylated, with approx. 60% of the glycans being monosialylated. This partial sialylation characterizes rHuAChE produced by cells selected for high-level expression of the recombinant protein. In low-level producer lines, the enzyme exhibits a higher sialic acid content, suggesting that undersialylation of rHuAChE in high-level producer lines stems from a limited endogenous glycosyltransferase activity. To improve sialylation in HEK-293 cells, rat liver β-galactoside α-2,6-sialyltransferase cDNA was stably transfected into cells expressing high levels of rHuAChE. rHuAChE produced by the modified cells displayed a significantly higher proportion of fully sialylated glycans as shown by sialic acid incorporation assays, direct measurement of sialic acid, and HPAEC glycan profiling. Genetically modified sialylated rHuAChE exhibited increased circulatory retention (the slow-phase half-life, t½β, was 130 min, compared with 80 min for the undersialylated enzyme). Interestingly, the same increase in circulatory residence was observed when rHuAChE was subjected to extensive sialylation in vitro. The engineered HEK-293 cells in which the glycosylation machinery was modified might represent a valuable tool for the high level of expression of recombinant glycoproteins whose sialic acid content is important for their function or for pharmacokinetic behaviour.

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