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Anal Chem. 2008 May 1;80(9):3438-44. doi: 10.1021/ac800016w. Epub 2008 Mar 20.

Characterization of polyubiquitin chain structure by middle-down mass spectrometry.

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Department of Human Genetics, Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia 30322, USA.


Ubiquitin (Ub) is a 76 amino acid polypeptide that modifies a wide range of proteins in the types of monomer or polymers, and functional consequence of ubiquitination is modulated by the length and topologies of polyUb chains. Whereas polyUb chains are usually analyzed by fully trypsin digestion and mass spectrometry (MS), we present here a middle-down strategy to characterize the structure of polyUb chains by high-resolution mass spectrometry (MS). Under optimized condition, native folded polyUb is partially trypsinized exclusively at the R74 residue, generating a large Ub fragment (1-74 residues termed UbR74) and its ubiquitinated form with a diglycine tag (UbR74-GG). The molar ratio between UbR74 and UbR74-GG reflects the length of homogeneous polyUb chains (i.e., 1:1 for the dimer, 1:2 for the trimer, 1:3 for the tetramer, and so on). Moreover, lysine residues in ubiquitin used for chain linkages are detectable by MS/MS and MS/MS/MS of large GG-tagged Ub fragments. The strategy was validated using a number of ubiquitin polymers, including K48-linked human di-Ub, K63-linked human tetra-Ub, as well as His-tagged polyUb chains purified from yeast under native condition. The potential of this strategy to analyze polyUb chains with mixed linkages (e.g., forked chains) is also discussed. Together, this middle-down MS strategy provides a novel complementary method for studying the length and linkages of complex polyUb chain structures.

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