Identification of multiple and novel posttranslational modifications remains a major challenge in proteomics. The present approach uses comparative analysis by matrix-assisted laser/ desorption ionization (MALDI) MS of proteolytic digests from control and treated proteins to target differences due to modifications, without initial assumption as to type or residue localization. Differences between modified and unmodified digest MS spectra highlight peptides of interest for subsequent tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS) analysis. Targeted HPLC-electrospray ionization (ESI)-MS/MS is then used to fragment peptides, and manual de novo sequencing is used to determine the amino acid sequence and type of modification. This strategy for identifying posttranslational modifications in an unbiased manner is particularly useful for finding modifications produced by exogenous chemicals. Successful characterization of chemically induced posttranslational modifications and novel chemical adducts is given as an example of the use of this strategy. Histone H4 from butyrate-treated LLC-PK1 cells is separated on a gel into bands representing different overall charge state. Bands are analyzed by comparative MALDI-MS and LC-MS/MS to identify the sites of methylation and acetylation. Previous attempts to identify chemically adducted proteins in vivo have been unsuccessful in part due to a lack of understanding of the final adduct form. Cytochrome c is adducted in vitro with benzoquinone, an electrophilic metabolite of benzene capable of interacting with nucleophilic sites within proteins. De novo sequencing identifies a novel cyclized diquinone adduct species as the major reaction product, targeting Lys and His residues at two specific locations on the protein surface. This unpredicted reaction product is characterized using our unbiased methods for detection and demonstrates the important influence of protein structure on chemical adduction.
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