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Multiple-parameter profiling of density gradient ultracentrifugation for characterization of empty and full capsid distribution in AAV preparations

Sebastijan Peljhan, Maja Štokelj, Sara Drmota Prebil, Pete Gagnon and Aleš Štrancar

Cell & Gene Therapy Insights, March 2021


Ultracentrifugation (UC) is a well-known technique for fractionating adeno-associated virus (AAV) capsids according to their density, which is mainly a function of their encapsidated DNA mass. Empty capsids represent the lowest density subpopulation. Full capsids represent the highest density subpopulation, sometimes accompanied by partially full capsids of intermediate density. Fractions can be collected after sedimentation for analysis but the practice is laborious and discourages application of multiple monitoring techniques that might provide deeper insights into sample composition. Anion exchange chromatography (AEC) also achieves fractionation of empty and full capsids for many AAV serotypes. The degree of separation varies among serotypes and does not correlate strictly with UC. This is not surprising since separation by AEC is highly influenced by capsid surface charge, which is independent of the amount of DNA packaged within the capsids. Chromatography methods however present a significant analytical advantage in the ease of monitoring the column effluent, including with multiple detectors. UV absorbance at 260 nm and 280 nm permits estimation of empty and full capsid proportions in any given peak. Intrinsic fluorescence enables estimation of relative areas of empty capsid peaks and full capsid peaks. Light scattering does the same and permits the further determination of capsid size and mass. In this report, we merge UC with an HPLC monitoring array to simultaneously analyze dual wavelength UV, intrinsic fluorescence, and light scattering through cesium chloride density gradient strata. Limitations of each monitoring method are discussed. UC results are compared with chromatography profiles to highlight distinction between separation methods. Practical application of results for final product characterization is considered, along with potential to support development of better purification processes.