Post-Translational Modification (PTM) Analysis

Two techniques can be used to map the precise sites of phosphorylation on a protein.

Method A, mass spectometry, is generally preferred as it requires less sample, avoids the handling of radioactive material, and yields data more rapidly.

Method B, Edman sequencing of [32P]-labeled protein, involves chromatographic separation of radiolabelled digested protein, followed by Edman sequencing to identify the phosphorylated residues. It requires a larger sample.

Method A: Mass Spectrometry

Mass spectometry requires 10-50 pmol of total protein which, following enzymatic digestion, is analyzed by LC-MS/MS.

This method uses non-radiolabeled protein that is digested with trypsin or another proteolytic enzyme and then analyzed in precursor ion scan mode (loss of 79 amu) on the QStar or QTrap mass spectrometers.

Following this initial analysis the crude protein digest is then analyzed by MS/MS to obtain sequence information to identify the residue with the phosphate group.

To improve our ability to identify phosphorylation sites, especially low abundance sites, an LC/MS/MS experiment can be performed. The best data will be obtained when stoichiometry for the phosphorylation event approaches 1.

An estimation of the degree of phosphorylation should be determined before submitting samples. Assuming the stoichiometry is high, the phosphorylated peptide may be identified by MALDI-MS by comparing the MS profile of the phosphorylated sample (+80 amu) with that obtained after treatment with alkaline phosphatase.

Method B: Edman Sequencing of [32P]-labeled protein

This method requires 20-50 pmol of protein labeled with [32P]-ATP. Depending on the amount of protein available and the stoichiometry of phosphorylation, using radiolabeled ATP offers some advantages, as the radioisotope provides a useful way to identify and track the modified peptide(s).

As with Method A, this approach begins with an in-gel digest of the Coomassie blue stained protein. It is recommended that 20-50 pmol protein, containing >100,000 cpm/expected site, be submitted for analysis. An estimation of stoichiometry of phosphorylation should also be determined before sample submission.

Standard capillary HPLC/peptide fractionation with [32P]-labeled protein

The sample is digested with trypsin, the tryptic peptides extracted from the gel, then separated by reversed-phase HPLC and collected on a 96-well ELISA plate. Fractions containing radioactivity are identified on a scintillation counter and prepared for additional analysis.

Mass spectrometric identification of [32P]-labeled phosphopeptides

A small aliquot of each [32P]-containing fraction is analyzed by MALDI-MS. The masses obtained will correspond to singly-charged (M+H) ions and since the presence of phosphate adds 80 amu to the mass of the expected tryptic peptide, its identity can be tentatively assigned.

Edman sequencing of [32P]-labeled phosphopeptides

Since the phosphorylated PTH derivatives are too hydrophilic to be extracted from the sequencing support, it is necessary to perform a partial modification of the phosphorylated residue with aminoethanethiol, which is stable to Edman chemistry.