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.

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Mass Spec-Compatible Proteome Reference Material


The complexity of biological samples places high demand on mass spec analytical capability. Adequate monitoring of instrument performance for proteomics studies requires equally complex reference material such as whole-cell extracts. However, whole-cell extracts available commercially are developed for general research (e.g., enzymatic or Western blot analysis) and contain detergents and salts that interfere with reverse phase liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry. Even after clean up, the extracts need to be digested, requiring time, labor and experience to generate samples for use in mass spectrometry. To address the need for complex protein material, we have developed whole-cell protein extracts from yeast and human cells. The yeast extract offers the convenience of a relatively small and well annotated proteome, whereas the human extract provides a complex proteome with large dynamic range. The human extract also serves as reference material for studies targeting the human proteome.

The extracts are free of compounds that interfere with reverse phase liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS), and have been reduced with DTT and alkylated with iodoacetamide then digested with Trypsin/Lys-C Mix and lyophilized. These digested extracts (tryptic peptides) can be readily reconstituted in trifluoroacetic acid (TFA) or formic acid and injected into an instrument. The same human and yeast whole-cell extracts also are provided in an intact (undigested) form for users who would like to develop an independent method for preparing protein mass spectrometry samples. For convenience, the intact extracts are provided as a frozen solution.

Consistent extract protein composition is ensured by tight control over cell culture conditions and manufacturing process. Lot-to-lot consistency of extracts is monitored by various protein and peptide qualitative and quantitation methods, including LC-MS. (Quality control results are provided upon request.) Our manufacturing process assures compatibility with reverse phase liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry, minimal nonspecific protein fragmentation, nonbiological post-translational modifi cations and,for digested extracts, minimal undigested peptides. The extracts are optimized for a high number of peptide and protein identifications in mass spectrometry analysis.

Use of Nonspecific Proteases for Analysis of Proteins by Mass Spectrometry

mass spectrometry results

One of the approaches to identify proteins by mass spectrometry includes the separation of proteins by gel electrophoresis or liquid chromatography. Subsequently the proteins are cleaved with sequence-specific endoproteases. Following digestion the generated peptides are investigated by determination of molecular masses or specific sequence. For protein identification the experimentally obtained masses/sequences are compared with theoretical masses/sequences compiled in various databases.

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Nonspecific proteases such as pepsin, proteinase K, elastase and thermolysin can offer an alternative to traditional sequence-specific proteases for certain applications. The following references illustrate the use of nonspecific proteinases for the mass spec analysis of proteins:

Papasotiriou, D. et al. (2010) Peptide mass fingerprinting after less specific in-gel proteolysis using MALDI-LTQ-Orbitrap and 4-chloro-alpha-cyanocinnamic acid. J. Proteome. Res. 9, 2619–29. This reference demonstrates the use of either chymotrypsin, elastase, trypsin or proteinase K in combination with matrix CHCA for increase peptide identification and sequence coverage using MALDI.

Neue, K. et al. (2011) Elucidation of glycoprotein structures by unspecific proteolysis and direct nanoESI mass spectrometric analysis of ZIC-HILIC-enriched glycopeptides. J. Proteome. Res. 10, 2248–60. Notes use of thermolysin or elastase in combination with ZIC-HILIC enrichment as alternative method for the characterization of glycopeptides.

Baeumlisberger, D et al. (2011) Simple dual-spotting procedure enhances nLC-MALDI MS/MS analysis of digests with less specific enzymes. J. Proteome. Res. 10, 2889–94. Data noted that samples digested with elastase followed by nLC separation and subsequent alternative spotting on both MALDI-LTQ-Orbitrap and MALDL-TOF/TOF instruments resulted in 32% additional peptides.