Analysis of a biosimilar mAb using Mass Spectrometry

Several pharmaceutical companies have biosimilar versions of therapeutic mAbs in development. Biosimilars can promise significant cost savings for patients, but the unavoidable differences
between the original and thencopycat biologic raise questions regarding product interchangeability. Both innovator mAbs and biosimilars are heterogeneous populations of variants characterized by differences in glycosylation,oxidation, deamidation, glycation, and aggregation state. Their heterogeneity could potentially affect target protein binding through the F´ab domain, receptor binding through the Fc domain, and protein aggregation.

As more biosimilar mAbs gain regulatory approval, having clear framework for a rapid characterization of innovator and biosimilar products to identify clinically relevant differences is important. A recent reference (1) applied a comprehensive mass spectrometry (MS)-based strategy using bottom-up, middle-down, and intact strategies. These data were then integrated with ion mobility mass spectrometry (IM-MS) and collision-induced unfolding (CIU) analyses, as well as data from select biophysical techniques and receptor binding assays to comprehensively evaluate biosimilarity between Remicade and Remsima.

The authors observed that the levels of oxidation, deamidation, and mutation of individual amino acids were remarkably similar. they found different levels of C-terminal truncation, soluble protein aggregates, and glycation that all likely have a limited clinical impact.  Importantly, they identified more than 25 glycoforms for each product and observed glycoform population differences.

Overall the use of mass spectrometry-based analysis provides rapid and robust analytical information vital for biosimilar development. They demonstrated the utility of our multiple-attribute monitoring workflow using the model mAbs Remicade and Remsima and have provided a template for analysis of future mAb biosimilars.

1. Pisupati, K. et. al. (2017) A Multidimensional Analytical Comparison of Remicade and the Biosimilar Remsima. Anal. Chem 89, 38–46.

Optimizing tryptic digestions for analysis of protein:protein interactions by mass spec

Protein:protein interactions (PPIs) play a key role in regulating cellular activities including DNA replication, transcription,translation, RNA splicing, protein secretion, cell cycle control and signal transduction. A comprehensive method is needed to identify the PPIs before the significance of the protein:protein interactions can be characterized. Affinity purification−mass spectrometry (AP−MS) has become the method of choice for discovering PPIs under native conditions. This method uses affinity purification of proteins under native conditions to preserve PPIs. Using this method, the protein complexes are captured by antibodies specific for the bait proteins or for tags that were introduced on the bait proteins and pulled down onto immobilized protein A/G beads. The complexes are further digested into peptides with trypsin. The protein interactors of the bait proteins are identified by quantification of the tryptic peptides via mass spectrometry.

The success of AP-MS depends on the efficiency of trypsin digestion and the recovery of the tryptic peptides for MS analysis. Several different protocols have been used for trypsin digestion of protein complexes in AP-MS studies, but no systematic studies have been conducted on the impact of trypsin digestion conditions on the identification of PPIs.  A recent publication used NFB/RelA and BRD4 as bait proteins and five different trypsin digestion conditions (two using “on beads” and three using “elution” digestion protocols). Although the performance of the trypsin digestion protocols changed slightly depending on the different bait proteins, antibodies and cell lines used, the authors of the paper found that elution digestion methods consistently outperformed on-beads digestion methods.


Zhang, Y. et al. (2017) Quantitative Assessment of the Effects of Trypsin Digestion Methods on Affinity Purification−Mass Spectrometry-based Protein−Protein Interaction Analysis
J of Proteome. Res. 16, 3068–82.

Use of HIC high resolution chromatography and elastase for bottom up proteomics

One of the key applications used to characterize single or complex protein mixtures via bottom up proteomics is liquid chromatography−tandem mass spectrometry (LC−MS/MS).
Recent technical advances allow for identification of >10 000 proteins in a cancer cell line. On the peptide level chromatography methods, like strong cation exchange (SCX)
and hydrophilic interaction chromatography (HILIC), as well as high-pH reversed phase chromatography have been employed successfully. Because of its robustness
and ease of handling, the classical and still widely used approach for protein fractionation prior to LC− MS/MS is gel-based separation under denaturing conditions (SDS-PAGE).
Hydrophobic interaction chromatography (HIC) is a robust standard analytical method to purify proteins while preserving their biological activity. It is widely used
to study post-translational modifications of proteins and drug−protein interactions.  HIC is a high-resolution chromatography mode based on the interaction of
weakly hydrophobic ligands of the stationary phase with hydrophobic patches on the surface of the tertiary structure of proteins. By employment of high concentrations
of structure-promoting (“kosmotropic”) salts, proteins in HIC retain their conform

In a recent publication, HIC was used to separate proteins, followed by bottom up LC−MS/MS experiments (1).  HIC was used to fractionate antibody species
followed by comprehensive peptide mapping as well as to study protein complexes in human cells. The results indicated that HIC−reversed-phase chromatography (RPC)
mass spectrometry (MS) is a powerful alternative to fractionate proteins for bottom-up proteomics experiments making use of their distinct hydrophobic properties.

An additional observation noted that tryptic digests of the antibody used in the study yielded a protein coverage of 56% for the light chain and 63.2% for the
heavy chain. A consecutive proteolytic digestion protocol combing on-filter trypsin and elastase digestion drastically improved sequence coverage of
both light (100%) and heavy chains (99.2%).

1. Rackiewicz, M. et al. (2017) Hydrophobic Interaction Chromatography for Bottom-Up Proteomics Analysis of Single Proteins and Protein Complexes. J.Proteome.Res. 16, 2318–23.

Improved Method for the Rapid Analysis of Monoclonal Antibodies Using IdeS

ides_abTherapeutic monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) are inherently heterogeneous due to a wide range of both enzymatic and chemical modifications, such as oxidation, deamidation and glycosylation which may occur during expression, purification or storage. For identification and functional evaluation of these modifications, stability studies
are typically performed by employing stress conditions such as exposure to chemical oxidizers, elevated pH and temperature.

To characterize MAbs, a variety of analytical techniques are chosen, such as size exclusion chromatography and ion exchange chromatography. However, due to the large size of the intact MAbs, these methods lack structural resolution. Often, the chromatographic peaks resolved by SEC and IEC methods are collected and further analyzed by peptide mapping to obtain more detailed information. Peptide mapping, in which antibodies are cleaved into small peptides through protease digestion followed by LC–MS/MS analysis, is generally the method of choice for detection and quantitation of site-specific modifications. However sample preparation and lengthy chromatographic separation make peptide mapping impractical for the analysis of large numbers of samples. In contrast to peptide mapping analysis, the middle-down approach offers the advantage of high-throughput and specificity for antibody characterization.

Limited proteolysis of IgG molecules by the IdeS enzyme has been introduced for antibody characterization due to its high cleavage specificity and simple digestion procedure. Continue reading

Optimizing Trypsin Digestion Parameters for Plasma Proteins

TrypsinLysC Page 2Biomarkers in biological fluids in particular have the potential to inform regarding risk of disease or to allow early detection for more effective treatment. Plasma/serum is considered the universal source of biomarkers. This fluid is, indeed, easily collected, and the important point is that plasma collects proteins from each and every tissue, compared to other fluids such as urine or cerebrospinal fluid. Optimizing experimental conditions (i.e., use of trypsin for the digestion of target proteins) used to discover or monitor biomarkers in plasma is critical to successful detection of biomarkers.

In a recent publication by Proc et al., plasma denaturation/digestion protocols were compared using quanititation methods. In this reference 14 combinations of heat, solvent (acetonitrile, methanol, trifluoroethanol), chaotropic agents (guanidine hydrochloride, urea) and surfactants (sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS)and sodium deoxycholate (DOC) with effectiveness in improving tryptic digestion. Digestion efficiency was monitored by quantitating the peptides from 45 moderate- to high-abundance plasma proteins using tandem mass spectrometry in multiple reaction mode with a mixture of stable isotope labeled analogues of these peptides as internal standards. In the results, Proc et al. noted that use of either DOC and SDS produced an increase in the overall yield of tryptic peptides. Since SDS is not compatible with mass spectrometry and DOC can be easily remove by acid precipitation, the overall recommendation was the use of DOC with a nine hour digestion procedure.

Literature Cited:

Proc, J.L. et al. (2010) A Quantitative Study of the Effects of Chaotropic  Agents Surfactants and Solvents on the Digestion Efficiency of Human Plasma Proteins by Trypsin J. Proteome Res. 9, 5422–37.

Improved Characterization and Quantification of Complex Cell Surface N-Glycans

MSextractcroppedN-Glycosylation is a common protein post-translational modification occurring on asparagine residues of the consensus sequence asparagine-X-serine/threonine, where X may be any amino acid except proline. Protein N-glycosylation takes place in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) as well as in the Golgi apparatus.

Approximately half of all proteins typically expressed in a cell undergo this modification, which entails the covalent addition of sugar moieties to specific amino acids. There are many potential functions of glycosylation. For instance, physical properties include: folding, trafficking, packing, stabilization and protease protection. N-glycans present at the cell surface are directly involved in cell−cell or cell−protein interactions that trigger various biological responses.

The standard method used to profile the N-glycosylation pattern of cells is glycoprotein isolation followed by denaturation and/or tryptic digestion of the glycoproteins and an enzymatic release of the N-glycans using PNGase F followed by analysis mass spec. This method has been reported to yield high levels of high-mannose N-glycans that stem from both membrane proteins as well as proteins from the ER.(1,2)

For those researchers interested in characterizing only cell surface glycans (i.e.,  complex N-glycans)  a recent reference has developed a model system using HEK-292 cells that demonstrates a reproducible, sensitive, and fast method to profile surface N-glycosylation from living cells (3). The method involves standard centrifugation followed by enzymatic release of cell surface N-glycans. When compared to the standard methods the detection and quantification of complex-type N-glycans by increased their relative amount from 14 to 85%.

  1. North, S. J. et al. (2012) Glycomic analysis of human mast cells, eosinophils and basophils. Glycobiology. 2012, 22, 12–22.
  2. Reinke, S. O. et al. (2011) Analysis of cell surface N-glycosylation of the human embryonic
    kidney 293T cell line.
    J. Carbohydr. Chem.  30, 218–232.
  3. Hamouda, H. et al. (2014) Rapid Analysis of Cell Surface N‑Glycosylation from Living Cells Using Mass Spectrometry. J of Proteome Res. 13, 6144–51.

Mass Spectrometry Application: Antibody Quantitation for Preclinical PK studies

Isoform_Antibodies_LinkedInTherapeutic monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) represent the majority of therapeutics biologics now on the market, with more than 20 mAbs approved as drugs (1–3). During preclinical development of therapeutic antibodies, multiple variants of each antibody are assessed for pharmacokinetic (PK) characteristics across model systems such as rodents, beagles and  primates. Ligand-binding assays (LBA) are the standard technology used to perform the PK studies for mAb candidates (4). Ligand-binding assays (LBAs) are methods used  to detect and measure a macromolecular interaction between a ligand and a binding molecule. In LBAs, a therapeutic monoclonal antibody is considered to be the ligand, or analyte of interest, while the binding molecule is usually a target protein.

LBAs have certain well-documented limitations (5). Specific assay reagents are often not available early in a program. Interferences from endogenous proteins, antidrug antibodies, and soluble target ligands are potential complicating factors.

Liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry (LC–MS/MS)-based methods represent a viable and complementary addition to LBA for mAb quantification in biological matrixes. LC–MS/MS provides specificity, sensitivity, and multiplexing capability.

A recent reference (6) illustrates an automated method to perform LC–MS/MS-based quantitation, with IgG1 conserved peptides, a heavy isotope labeled mAb internal standard,and anti-human Fc enrichment. The method was applied to the pharmacokinetic study of a mAb dosed in cynomolgus monkey, and the results were compared with the immunoassay data. The interesting finding of the difference between ELISA and LC–MRM-MS data indicated that those two methods can provide complementary information regarding the drug’s PK profile.

Literature Cited

  1. Mao, T. et al. (2013) Top-Down Structural Analysis of an Intact Monoclonal Antibody by Electron Capture Dissociation-Fourier Transform Ion Cyclotron Resonance-Mass Spectrometry. Anal.Chem. 85, 4239–46.
  2. Weiner, L. M. et al. (2010) Monoclonal antibodies: versatile platforms for cancer immunotherapy. Nat. Rev. Immunol. 10, 317–27.
  3. Nelson, A. et al. (2010) Development trends for human monoclonal antibody therapeutics. Nat. Rev. Drug Discovery. 9, 767–74.
  4. DeSilva, B. et al. (2003) Recommendations for the Bioanalytical Method Validation of Ligand-Binding Assays to Support Pharmacokinetic Assessments of MacromoleculesPharm. Res. 20, 1885–00.
  5. Ezan, al. (2009) Critical comparison of MS and immunoassays for the bioanalysis of therapeutic antibodiesBioanalysis 1, 1375–88.
  6. Zhang, Q. et al. (2014) Generic Automated Method for Liquid Chromatography–Multiple Reaction Monitoring Mass Spectrometry Based Monoclonal Antibody Quantitation for Preclinical Pharmacokinetic Studies. Anal.Chem. 86, 8776–84.

Optimizing Tryptic Digestions for Phosphoproteomics Analysis

11296971-DC-CR-KinaseProtein phosphorylation is the most widespread type of post-translational modification. It affects every basic cellular process, including metabolism, growth, division, differentiation, motility, organelle trafficking, membrane transport, muscle contraction, immunity, learning and memory (1,2). Protein kinases catalyse the transfer of the phosphate from ATP to specific amino acids in proteins. In eukaryotes, these are usually Ser, Thr and Tyr residues. Due to the development of specific phosphopeptide enrichment techniques and highly sensitive MS instruments, phosphoproteomics has enabled researchers to gain a comprehensive view on the dynamics of protein phosphorylation and phosphorylation based signaling networks.

Due to its high cleavage specificity, trypsin is the commonly used proteolytic enzyme in MS-based proteomics, cleaving peptides carboxyterminal of the amino acids lysine and arginine. However, various factors such as the tertiary structure of a protein, adjacent basic amino acids or negatively charged residues close to cleavage sites as well as PTMs are known to impair proteolysis.

To gain closer insights into the impact of phosphorylation on tryptic digestion, a recent publication(3) systematically characterized the digestion efficiency of model peptide sequences that are known to be prone to incomplete digestion.

The results indicated that increasing trypsin concentrations up to a trypsin to peptide ratio of 1:10 led to a significant gain (1) in the overall number of phosphorylation sites (up to 9%) and in the intensities of individual phosphopeptides, thereby improving the sensitivity of phosphopeptide quantification.

The effect of organic solvents (ACN, acetonitrile and TFE trifuorethanol was also evaluated). Positive results were noted with TFE when determining the digestion of individual peptides. However TFE interfered with TiO2 phosphopeptide enrichment and therefore was not recommended for use with complex samples.

  1. Engholm-Keller, K and Larsen, M.R. (2013) Technologies and challenges in large scale phosphoroproteomics. Proteomics 13, 910–31.
  2. Beausoleil, S. A. et al. (2010) Tissue-specific atlas of mouse protein phosphorylation and expression. Cell 143, 1174–89.
  3. Dickhut, C. et al. (2014) Impact of Digestion Conditions on phosphoproteomics. J. Proteome Res. 13, 2761–70.

Free Webinar: Protein Reference Materials for Mass Spectrometry

MSextractcroppedOnce the domain of analytical chemistry labs, mass spectrometry instruments are now used in basic life science research, drug discovery research, environmental and industrial laboratories, and in many other biological laboratories. These instruments, which are used to perform critical analyses, need to be monitored for performance and quality.

How do you determine the system suitability and quality for your experiments? How do you evaluate a sample preparation protocol for mass spec analysis to ensure you get the best results possible without introducing artifacts? And, if you are trying to optimize the instrument method, what standard do you use ?

Currently, there is no commercially available reference reagent to help you monitor and test all LC (liquid chromatography) and MS (mass spec) parameters, particularly sensitivity and dynamic range, in a single run.

But what if there were an optimized peptide mixture that could report all key instrument performance parameters in a single run? Even better, what if that mixture came with free software to make analysis of all of the data you can generate even easier?

The upcoming free webinar: The 6 × 5 LC-MS/MS Peptide Reference Mixture and Software Analysis Tool describes such a standard reagent and analysis software.
If you are interested in learning about standardized reagent and software to help you monitor your instrument or optimize methods or protocols, register for this free webinar today!

Reflections on Summer 2014 Courses

Group Photo from the 2014 Core Techniques in Protein and Genetic Engineering Course Held at the BTC Institute July 14-18. Photo credit: BTCI

Group Photo from the 2014 Core Techniques in Protein and Genetic Engineering Course Held at the BTC Institute July 14-18. Photo credit: BTCI

One of the things that I encourage all of the students I interact with in BTC Institute courses to do in order to boost retention and make meaning out of the activities that we do in class is to reflect on their experiences. Reflection is one way to connect new knowledge to past experience and get it to really stick in the brain, among other things.

Taking my own advice to heart, I use this space to ponder some interesting aspects of these experiences from my own perspective. This summer, I worked with 65 students and over 25 instructors to deliver four weeks of intensive instruction in molecular biology applied to a wide range of research areas. Continue reading