New Recombinant Asp-N Mass Spec Protease: Improved Format and Reduced Price

Asp-N is a endoproteinase hydrolyzes peptide bonds on the N-terminal side of aspartic residues. The native form is isolated from Pseudomonas fragi. The majority of vendors currently provide a commercial product that consists of 2µg of lyophilized material in a flat bottom vial, and sold for $175–200 US. Formatting such a small amount of material in flat bottom vial can lead to inconsistent resuspension of the protease. Inconsistent working concentrations will lead to non-reproducible data. The current high price also prohibits large-scale use.

The new recombinant Asp-N protease is cloned from Stenotrophomonas maltophilia and expressed in E. coli. Recombinant Asp-N has similar amino acid cleavage specificity as compared to native Asp-N. Digestion of a yeast extract with native and recombinant Asp-N produces very similar results. Providing 10µg lyophilized material in V-shaped vial with a visible cake enables more consistent re-suspension resulting in reproducible data. Due to improved yields the list price is now approximately 40% less when compared to native enzyme.
Learn more about this new recombinant Asp-N protease.

Beer Is Complicated: Proteome Analysis via Mass Spectrometry

still life with a keg of beer and draft beer by the glass.The art of brewing alcoholic beverages has existed for thousands of years. The process of beer brewing begins with barley grains, which are malted to allow partial germination, triggering expression of key enzymes. The germinated grains are then dried and milled. Next, starch, proteins, and other molecules are solubilized during mashing. During mashing, solubilized enzymes degrade starch to fermentable sugars, and digest proteins to produce peptides and free amino acids. Fermentable sugars and free amino acids are required for efficient yeast growth during fermentation.

After the mash, the wort is removed, and hops are added for bitterness and aroma, and the wort is boiled. After boiling, the wort is inoculated with yeast, and fermentation proceeds to produce bright beer. Typically this bright beer is then filtered, carbonated, packaged, and sold. Many proteins originating from the barley grain and the yeast are present in beer, and these have been reported to affect the quality of the final product. However, some of the biochemical details of this process remain unclear. To better understand what happens during the various steps of the brewing process,  Schultz et al. used mass spectrometry proteomics to perform a global untargeted analysis of the proteins present across time during beer production and described this work in a recent paper (1). Samples analyzed included sweet wort produced by a high temperature infusion mash, hopped wort, and bright beer. Continue reading

Mass Spec Analysis of PTMs Using Minimal Sample Material

DNA is organized by protein:DNA complexes called nucleosomes in eukaryotes. Nucleosomes are composed of 147 base pairs of DNA wrapped around a histone octamer containing two copies of each core histone protein. Histone proteins play significant roles in many nuclear processes including transcription, DNA damage repair and heterochromatin formation. Histone proteins are extensively and dynamically post-translationally modified, and these post-translational modifications (PTMs) are thought to comprise a specific combinatorial PTM profile of a histone that dictates its specific function.  Abnormal regulations of PTM may lead to developmental disorders and disease development such as cancer.

Antibodies have been widely used to characterize histones and histone PTMs. However, antibody-based techniques have several limitations. Mass spectrometry (MS) has therefore emerged as the most suitable analytical tool to quantify proteomes and protein PTMs.  The most commonly used strategy is still bottom-up MS, and the most widely adopted protocol includes derivatization of lysine residues in histones to allow trypsin to generate Arg-C like peptides (4–20 aa). However, samples such as primary tissues, complex model systems, and biofluids are hard to retrieve in large quantities. Because of this, it is critical to know whether the amount of sample available would lead to an exhaustive analysis if subjected to MS.

In a recent publication, Guo, et al. examined (1) the reproducibility in quantification of histone PTMs using a wide range of starting material: from 50,000 to 5,000,000 cells. They used four different cell lines: HeLa, 293T, human embryonic stem cells (hESCs), and myoblasts. Their results demonstrated that an accurate quantification of abundant histone PTMs can be efficiently obtained by using low-resolution MS and as low as 50,000 cells as starting material Low abundance histone marks showed more variability in quantification when comparing different amounts of starting material, so a larger amount of starting material (at least 500,000 cells) is recommended.


Guo, Q. et al. (2017) Assessment of Quantification Precision of Histone Post-Translational Modifications by Using an Ion Trap and down To 50,000 Cells as Starting Material. J. Proteome Res. 17, 234–42.

Biotechnology From the Mouths of Babes

As a science writer, much of my day entails reviewing and revising marketing materials and technical literature about complex life science research products. I take for granted the understanding that I, my colleagues and our customers have of how these technologies work. This fact really struck me as I read an article about research to improve provider-patient communication in healthcare settings.

The researchers completed an analysis revealing that patient information materials had an average readability at a high school level, while the average patient reads at a fourth-grade level. These findings inspired the researchers to conduct a study in which they enlisted the help of elementary students to revise the content of the patient literature after giving them a short lesson on the material.

The resulting content did not provide more effective ways to communicate indications, pre- and post-op care, risks or procedures—that wasn’t really the point. Instead, the study underscores the important connection between patient literacy and health outcomes. More specifically, a lack of health literacy is correlated with poor outcomes and increased healthcare costs, prompting action from the US Department of Health & Human Services.

While healthcare information can be complex and full of specific medical terminology, I recognized that a lot of the technical and marketing information we create for our products at Promega has similar features. Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out how descriptions of some of our biggest technologies translate through the eyes and mouths of children?

After enlisting some help from my colleagues, I was able to catch a glimpse of how our complex technologies are understood by the little people in our lives. The parents and I explained a technology and then had our child provide a description or drawing of what they understood. Continue reading

Optimized Detection of EPO-Fc in Human Biological Fluids

Recombinant erythropoietin (rhEPO) is often used as “doping agent” by athletes in endurance sports to increase blood oxygen capacity. Some strategies improve the pharmacological properties of erythropoietin (EPO) through the genetic and chemical modification of the native EPO protein. The EPO-Fcs are fusion proteins composed of monomeric or dimeric recombinant EPO and the dimeric Fc region of human IgG molecules. The Fc region includes the hinge region and the CH2 and CH3 domains. Recombinant human EPOs (rhEPO) fused to the IgG Fc domain demonstrate a prolonged half-life and enhanced erythropoietic activity in vivo compared with native or rhEPO.

Drug-testing agencies will need to obtain primary structure information and develop a reliable analytical method for the determination of EPO-Fc abuse in sport. The possibility of EPO-Fc detection using nanohigh-performance liquid chromatography−tandem mass spectrometry (HPLC−MS/MS) was already demonstrated (1). However, the prototyping peptides derived from EPO and IgG are not selective enough because both free proteins are naturally presented in human serum. In a recent publication, researchers describe the effort to identify peptides covering unknown fusion breakpoints (later referred to as “spacer” peptides; 2). The identification of “spacer” peptides will allow the confirmation of the presence of exogenous EPO-Fc in human biological fluids.

A bottom-up approach and the intact molecular weight measurement of deglycosylated protein and its IdeS proteolytic fractions was used to determine the amino acid sequence of EPO-Fc. Using multiple proteases, peptides covering unknown fusion breakpoints (spacer peptides) were identified.

Results indicated that “spacer peptides” could be used in the determination of EPO-Fc fusion proteins in biological samples using common LC−tandem MS methods.


  1. Reichel, C. et al. (2012) Detection of EPO-Fc fusion protein in human blood: screening and confirmation protocols for sports drug testing.
    Drug Test. Anal. 4, 818−29.
  2. Mesonzhnik, N. et al. (2017) Characterization and Detection of Erythropoietin Fc Fusion Proteins Using Liquid Chromatography−Mass Spectrometry.
    J. of Proteome Res. 17, 689-97.

Determination of Antibody Mechanism of Action Using IdeS

Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) have been widely used to eliminate undesired cells via various mechanisms, including antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity (ADCC), complement-dependent cytotoxicity (CDC) and programmed cell death (PCD). Unlike the Fc-dependent mechanism of ADCC and CDC, certain antibody–antigen interactions can evoke direct PCD via apoptosis or oncosis. Previously, researchers have reported the specific killing of undifferentiated human embryonic stem cells (hESC) by mAb84 (IgM) via oncosis (1)

In a recent publication (2), a monoclonal antibody (mAb), TAG-A1 (A1), was generated to selectively kill residual undifferentiated human embryonic stem cells (hESC). One of the many experimental tools used to characterize the mechanism of oncosis was the fragmention of the A1 antibody with IdeS and papain.

Papain digestion of IgG produces Fab fragments in the presence of reducing agent. F(ab)2 fragments of A1 were produced using IdeS Protease.

The results indicate that both Fab_A1 and F(ab)2_A1 bind to hESC but only F(ab)2_A1 retained hESC killing. Hence bivalency, but not Fc-domain, is essential for A1 killing on hESC.

  1. Choo, A.B. et al. (2008) Selection against undifferentiated human embryonic stem cells by a cytotoxic antibody recognizing podocalyxin-like protein-1. Stem Cells  26, 1454.
  2. Zheng, J.Y. et al. (2017) Excess reactive oxygen species production mediates monoclonal antibody-induced human embryonic stem cell death via oncosis. Cell Death and Differentiation 24, 546–58.

Further reading about IdeS Protease is available here.

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.

Why wait ? Sample prep/protein digestion in as little as 30 minutes!

While many proteases are used in bottom-up mass spectrometric (MS) analysis, trypsin (4,5) is the de facto protease of choice for most applications. There are several reasons for this: Trypsin is highly efficient, active and specific. Tryptic peptides produced after proteolysis are ideally suited, in terms of both size (350–1,600 Daltons) and charge (+2 to +4), for MS analysis. One significant drawback to trypsin digestion is the long sample preparation times, which typically range from 4 hours to overnight for most protocols. Achieving efficient digestion usually requires that protein substrates first be unfolded either with surfactants or denaturants such as urea or guanidine. These chemical additives can have negative effects, including protein modification, inhibition of trypsin or incompatibility with downstream LC-MS/MS. Accordingly, additional steps are typically required to remove these compounds prior to analysis.

To shorten the time required to prepare samples for LC-MS/MS analysis, we have developed a specialized trypsin preparation that supports rapid and efficient digestion at temperatures as high as 70°C. There are several benefits to this approach. First, proteolytic reaction times are dramatically shortened. Second, because no chemical denaturants have been added, off -line sample cleanup is not necessary, leading to shorter preparation times and diminished sample losses.

The Rapid Digestion trypsin protocols are highly flexible. They can accommodate a variety of additives including reducing and alkylating agents. There are no restrictions on sample volume or substrate concentrations with these kits. Furthermore, the protocol is simple to follow and requires no laboratory equipment beyond a heat block. Digestion is achieved completely using an in-solution approach, and since the enzyme is not immobilized on beads, the protocol does not have strict requirements for rapid shaking and off -line filtering to remove beads.

In addition to the benefits of this flexibility, we also developed a Rapid Digestion–Trypsin/Lys-C mixture. Like the Trypsin/Lys-C Mix previously developed to prepare maximally efficiently proteolytic digests, particularly for complex mixtures, Rapid Digestion–Trypsin/Lys C is ideally suited for studies that require improved reproducibility across samples.