What’s In YOUR Protein? Optimizing Protease Digestions to Get the Inside Scoop

It’s time to analyze your protein and you are trying to decide where to begin. You are asking questions like: Which protease do I choose? How much enzyme should I use in my digest? How long should I perform my digest?

Unfortunately, there is no one-size fits all answer to this type of question other than… “well it depends.” All protease digests will be a balance between denaturing the protein sample to allow access to cleavage sites, optimizing conditions for the protease to function, and compatibility with your workflow and downstream applications. We provide general guidelines that work for most samples, but frequently you will need to optimize the conditions need for your specific sample and application.

Here, I use the example of a trypsin digest for downstream mass spectrometry to highlight key questions to ask and factors that can be optimized for any digest. Continue reading

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.

Reference

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.

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.

References

  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.

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.

Reference

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%).

Reference
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.