Conditions were defined for the derivatization of recombinant tissue plasminogen activator (rt-PA) with polyethylene glycol (PEG) so as to retain functional activity as a possible means of producing a t-PA species with a prolonged circulating lifetime. Derivatives with a wide range of retention of activities were prepared by varying the concentration and species of activated PEG. The specific activities of the PEG-rt-PA derivatives were dependent on the method of assay. Assays using preformed fibrin gave higher estimates of retention of activity than assays using soluble components. Plasma elimination studies in mice and rats indicated prolonged circulating lifetimes for the radiolabeled PEG-rt-PA derivatives after a rapid clearance and distribution phase; however, the disappearance of functional activity was much more rapid than the disappearance of radiolabeled material. The PEG-rt-PA derivatives appeared to accumulate in tissues above their interstitial fluid concentrations and were rapidly inactivated, apparently by reaction with the plasma protease inhibitors. These results were consistent with the inactivation of the PEG-rt-PA derivatives in rat plasma in vitro. A somewhat longer half-life (t1/2) of the one derivative studied was observed in dogs (t1/2, 16 minutes) as compared with the rat (t1/2, five minutes). This was sufficient to confer thrombolytic activity upon the derivative (administered by bolus injection) in contrast to native rt-PA. The potential of PEG-modified rt-PA as a long-lived thrombolytic agent in humans will depend, however, on whether there will be a further extension of the t1/2 because of a reduction in clearance and/or a reduction in the rate of inactivation.

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