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Mol Cell Proteomics. 2012 Feb;11(2):M111.008318. doi: 10.1074/mcp.M111.008318. Epub 2011 Nov 7.

An integrated chemical cross-linking and mass spectrometry approach to study protein complex architecture and function.

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  • 1Institute for Systems Biology, Seattle, Washington 98109, USA.


Knowledge of protein structures and protein-protein interactions is essential for understanding biological processes. Chemical cross-linking combined with mass spectrometry is an attractive approach for studying protein-protein interactions and protein structure, but to date its use has been limited largely by low yields of informative cross-links (because of inefficient cross-linking reactions) and by the difficulty of confidently identifying the sequences of cross-linked peptide pairs from their fragmentation spectra. Here we present an approach based on a new MS labile cross-linking reagent, BDRG (biotin-aspartate-Rink-glycine), which addresses these issues. BDRG incorporates a biotin handle (for enrichment of cross-linked peptides prior to MS analysis), two pentafluorophenyl ester groups that react with peptide amines, and a labile Rink-based bond between the pentafluorophenyl groups that allows cross-linked peptides to be separated during MS and confidently identified by database searching of their fragmentation spectra. We developed a protocol for the identification of BDRG cross-linked peptides derived from purified or partially purified protein complexes, including software to aid in the identification of different classes of cross-linker-modified peptides. Importantly, our approach permits the use of high accuracy precursor mass measurements to verify the database search results. We demonstrate the utility of the approach by applying it to purified yeast TFIIE, a heterodimeric transcription factor complex, and to a single-step affinity-purified preparation of the 12-subunit RNA polymerase II complex. The results show that the method is effective at identifying cross-linked peptides derived from purified and partially purified protein complexes and provides complementary information to that from other structural approaches. As such, it is an attractive approach to study the topology of protein complexes.

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