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Bioconjug Chem. 2012 Mar 21;23(3):392-8. doi: 10.1021/bc200365k. Epub 2012 Mar 8.

Preventing thiol-yne addition improves the specificity of strain-promoted azide-alkyne cycloaddition.

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Biomolecular Chemistry, Nijmegen Center for Molecular Life Sciences, Institute for Molecules and Materials and Netherlands Proteomics Centre, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


The 1,3-dipolar cycloaddition of azides with ring-strained alkynes is one of the few bioorthogonal reactions suitable for specific biomolecule labeling in complex biological systems. Nevertheless, azide-independent labeling of proteins by strained alkynes can occur to a varying extent, thereby limiting the sensitivity of assays based on strain-promoted azide-alkyne cycloaddition (SPAAC). In this study, a subset of three cyclooctynes, dibenzocyclooctyne (DIBO), azadibenzocyclooctyne (DIBAC), and bicyclo[6.1.0]nonyne (BCN), was used to evaluate the azide-independent labeling of proteins in vitro. For all three cyclooctynes, we show that thiol-yne addition with reduced peptidylcysteines is responsible for most of the azide-independent polypeptide labeling. The identity of the reaction product was confirmed by LC-MS and NMR analysis. Moreover, we show that undesired thiol-yne reactions can be prevented by alkylating peptidylcysteine thiols with iodoacetamide (IAM). Since IAM is compatible with SPAAC, a more specific azide-dependent labeling is achieved by preincubating proteins containing reduced cysteines with IAM.

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