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J Am Soc Mass Spectrom. 2004 Feb;15(2):142-9.

Fragmentation pathways of N(G)-methylated and unmodified arginine residues in peptides studied by ESI-MS/MS and MALDI-MS.

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Institute of Biochemistry, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.


Protein methylation at arginine residues is a prevalent posttranslational modification in eukaryotic cells that has been implicated in processes from RNA-binding and transporting to protein sorting and transcription activation. Three main forms of methylarginine have been identified: N(G)-monomethylarginine (MMA), asymmetric N(G),N(G)-dimethylarginine (aDMA), and symmetric N(G),N'(G)-dimethylarginine (sDMA). To investigate gas-phase fragmentations and characteristic ions arising from methylated and unmodified arginine residues in detail, we subjected peptides containing these residues to electrospray triple-quadrupole tandem mass spectrometry. A variety of low mass ions including (methylated) ammonium, carbodiimidium, and guanidinium ions were observed. Fragment ions resulting from the loss of the corresponding neutral fragments (amines, carbodiimide, and guanidine) from intact molecular ions as well as from N- and C-terminal fragment ions were also identified. Furthermore, the peptides containing either methylated or unmodified arginines gave rise to abundant fragment ions at m/z 70, 112, and 115, for which cyclic ion structures are proposed. Electrospray ionization tandem mass spectra revealed that dimethylammonium (m/z 46) is a specific marker ion for aDMA. A precursor ion scanning method utilizing this fragment ion was developed, which allowed sensitive and specific detection of aDMA-containing peptides even in the presence of a five-fold excess of phosphorylase B digest. Interestingly, regular matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectra recorded from aDMA- or sDMA-containing peptides showed metastable fragment ions resulting from cleavages of the arginine side chains. The neutral losses of mono- and dimethylamines permit the differentiation between aDMA and sDMA.

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