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Anal Chem. 2005 Mar 1;77(5):1458-66.

Approach for determining protein ubiquitination sites by MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21205, USA.


Protein ubiquitination plays an important role in the degradation and other functional regulation of cellular proteins in organisms ranging from yeasts to mammals. Trypsin digestion of ubiquitin conjugated proteins produces diglycine branched peptides in which the C-terminal Gly-Gly fragment of ubiquitin is attached to the epsilon-amino group of a modified lysine residue within the peptide. This provides a platform for mapping ubiquitination sites using mass spectrometry. Here we report the development of a novel strategy for determining posttraslational protein ubiquitination based on the N-terminal sulfonation of diglycine branched peptides. In contrast to conventional tandem MS spectra of native tryptic peptides, MALDI MS/MS analysis of a sulfonated tryptic peptide containing a diglycine branch generates a unique spectrum composed of a signature portion and a sequence portion. The signature portion of the spectrum consists of several intense ions resulting from the elimination of the tags, the N-terminal residues at the peptide and the branch, and their combination. This unique ion distribution pattern can distinguish ubiquitination modificatons from others and can identify the first N-terminal residues of the peptides as well. The sequence portion consists of an exclusive series of y-type ions and y' ions (differing by the loss of one glycine residue from the sulfonated diglycine branch) that can directly reveal the amino acid sequence of the peptide and the precise location of the ubiquitination site. The technique is demonstrated for a series of synthetic peptides and is validated by a model protein, tetraubiquitin. Our results show that the MALDI MS/MS analysis of sulfonated tryptic peptides can provide a highly effective method for the determination of ubiquitination substrates, ubiquitination sites on protein targets, and modification sites on ubiquitins themselves.

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