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Anal Biochem. 1999 Feb 1;267(1):169-84.

Spontaneous alpha-N-6-phosphogluconoylation of a "His tag" in Escherichia coli: the cause of extra mass of 258 or 178 Da in fusion proteins.

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Central Research Division, Pfizer Inc., Eastern Point Road, Groton, Connecticut, 06340,


Several proteins expressed in Escherichia coli with the N-terminus Gly-Ser-Ser-[His]6- consisted partly (up to 20%) of material with 178 Da of excess mass, sometimes accompanied by a smaller fraction with an excess 258 Da. The preponderance of unmodified material excluded mutation, and the extra masses were attributed to posttranslational modifications. As both types of modified protein were N-terminally blocked, the alpha-amino group was modified in each case. Phosphatase treatment converted +258-Da protein into +178-Da protein. The modified His tags were isolated, and the mass of the +178-Da modification estimated as 178.06 +/- 0.02 Da by tandem mass spectrometry. As the main modification remained at +178 Da in 15N-substituted protein, it was deemed nitrogen-free and possibly carbohydrate-like. Limited periodate oxidations suggested that the +258-Da modification was acylation with a 6-phosphohexonic acid, and that the +178-Da modification resulted from its dephosphorylation. NMR spectra of cell-derived +178-Da His tag and synthetic alpha-N-d-gluconoyl-His tag were identical. Together, these results suggested that the +258-Da modification was addition of a 6-phosphogluconoyl group. A plausible mechanism was acylation by 6-phosphoglucono-1,5-lactone, produced from glucose 6-phosphate by glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (EC Supporting this, treating a His-tagged protein with excess d-glucono-1,5-lactone gave only N-terminal gluconoylation.

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