A Mass Spectrometry-Cleavable N-Terminal Tagging Strategy for System-Level Protease Activity Profiling

17 December 2020, Version 1
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


Proteolysis is one of the most important protein post-translational modifications (PTMs) that influences the functions, activities, and structures of nearly all proteins during their lifetime. This irreversible PTM is regulated and catalyzed by proteases through hydrolysis reaction in the process of protein maturation or degradation. The identification of proteolytic substrates is pivotal in understanding the specificity of proteases and the physiological role of proteolytic process. However, tracking these biological phenomena in native cells is very difficult due to their low abundances. Currently, no efficient methods are available to identify proteolytic products from large-scale samples. To facilitate the targeted identification of low-abundant proteolytic products, we devise a strategy incorporating a novel biotinylated reagent PFP (pentafluorophenyl)-Rink-biotin to specifically target, enrich and identify proteolytic N-terminus. Within the PFP-Rink-biotin reagent, an MS-cleavable feature is designed to assist in the unambiguous confirmation of the enriched proteolytic N-termini. This is the first reported study of identifying proteolytic N-terminus by MS-cleavable feature widely adopted in studying low-abundant protein PTMs and cross-linking/MS. The proof-of-concept study was performed with multiple standard proteins whose N-terminus were successfully modified, enriched and identified by a signature ion (SI) in the MS/MS fragmentation, along with the determination of N-terminal peptide sequences by multistage tandem MS of the complementary fragment generated after the cleavage of MS-cleavable bond. For large-scale application, the enrichment and identification of protein N-termini from Escherichia.coli cells were demonstrated along with a bioinformatics workflow. We believe this method can be very useful to locate proteolytic products in native cellular environment with high confidence.


Mass spectrometry-cleavable
N-terminal reagent,

Supplementary materials

Supplemental data scheme 12152020 chemRxiv


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