Chemiluminescent acridinium dimethylphenyl esters containing N-sulfopropyl groups in the acridinium ring are highly sensitive, hydrophilic labels that are used in automated immunoassays for clinical diagnostics. Light emission from these labels is triggered with alkaline peroxide in the presence of a cationic surfactant. At physiological pH, N-sulfopropyl acridinium esters exist as water adducts that are commonly referred to as pseudobases. Pseudobase formation, which results from addition of water to the zwitterionic N-sulfopropyl acridinium ring, neutralizes the positive charge on the acridinium nitrogen and imparts a net negative charge to the label due to the sulfonate moiety. As a consequence, N-sulfopropyl acridinium ester conjugates of small molecule haptens as well as large molecules such as proteins gain negative charges at neutral pH. In the current study, we describe the synthesis and properties of two new hydrophilic acridinium dimethylphenyl ester labels where the net charge in the labels was altered. In one label, the structure of the hydrophilic N-alkyl group attached to the acridinium ring was changed so that the pseudobase of the label contains no net charge. In the second acridinium ester, two additional negative charges in the form of sulfopropyl groups were added to the acridinium ring to make this label's pseudobase strongly anionic. Chemiluminescence measurements of these labels, as well as their conjugates of an antibody with a neutral pI, indicate that acridinium ester charge while having a modest effect on emission kinetics has little influence on light output. However, our results demonstrate that acridinium ester charge can affect protein pI, apparent chemiluminescence stability and non-specific binding of protein conjugates to microparticles. These results emphasize the need for careful consideration of acridinium ester charge in order to optimize reagent stability and performance in immunoassays. In the current study, we observed that for a neutral protein, an acridinium ester with a hydrophilic but charge-neutral N-alkyl group afforded faster light emission, lower non-specific binding and better chemiluminescence stability than an analogous label with an anionic N-alkyl group.
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