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Mar 20

RNA-Seq-enabled proteomics of a weakly electric fish

The brown ghost knifefish (Apteronotus leptorhynchus) is a weakly electric teleost fish of particular interest as a versatile model system for a variety of research areas in neuroscience and biology. The comprehensive information available on the neurophysiology and neuroanatomy of this organism has enabled significant advances in such areas as the study of the neural basis of behavior, the development of adult-born neurons in the central nervous system and their involvement in the regeneration of nervous tissue, as well as brain aging and senescence. Despite substantial scientific interest in this species, no genomic resources are currently available. Here, we report de novo assembly and annotation of the A. leptorhynchus transcriptome. After evaluating several trimming and transcript reconstruction strategies, de novo assembly using Trinity uncovered 42,459 unique contigs containing at least a partial protein-coding sequence based on alignment to a reference set of known Actinopterygii sequences. As many as 11,847 of these contigs contained full or near-full length protein sequences, providing broad coverage of the proteome. A variety of non-coding RNA sequences were also identified and annotated, including conserved long intergenic non-coding RNA and other long non-coding RNA observed previously to be expressed in adult zebrafish (Danio rerio) brain, as well as a variety of miRNA, snRNA, and snoRNA. Shotgun proteomics confirmed translation of open reading frames from over 2,000 transcripts, including alternative splice variants. Assignment of tandem mass spectra was greatly improved by use of the assembly compared to databases of sequences from closely related organisms. The assembly and raw reads have been deposited at DDBJ/EMBL/GenBank under the accession number GBKR00000000. Tandem mass spectrometry data is available via ProteomeXchange with identifier PXD001285. Presented here is the first release of an annotated de novo transcriptome assembly from Apteronotus leptorhynchus, providing a broad overview of RNA expressed in central nervous system tissue. The assembly, which includes substantial coverage of a wide variety of both protein coding and non-coding transcripts, will allow the development of better tools to understand the mechanisms underlying unique characteristics of the knifefish model system, such as their tremendous regenerative capacity and negligible brain senescence.

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Dec 19

Fine structure HDX-MS software

Background: Hydrogen/deuterium exchange (HDX) coupled to mass spectrometry permits analysis of structure, dynamics, and molecular interactions of proteins. HDX mass spectrometry is confounded by deuterium exchange-associated peaks overlapping with peaks of heavy, natural abundance isotopes, such as carbon-13. Recent studies demonstrated that high-performance mass spectrometers could resolve isotopic fine structure and eliminate this peak overlap, allowing direct detection and quantification of deuterium incorporation.
Results: Here, we present a graphical tool that allows for a rapid and automated estimation of deuterium incorporation from a spectrum with isotopic fine structure. Given a peptide sequence (or elemental formula) and charge state, the mass-to-charge ratios of deuterium-associated peaks of the specified ion is determined. Intensities of peaks in an experimental mass spectrum within bins corresponding to these values are used to determine the distribution of deuterium incorporated. A theoretical spectrum can then be calculated based on the estimated distribution of deuterium exchange to confirm interpretation of the spectrum. Deuterium incorporation can also be detected for ion signals without a priori specification of an elemental formula, permitting detection of exchange in complex samples of unidentified material such as natural organic matter. A tool is also incorporated into QUDeX-MS to help in assigning ion signals from peptides arising from enzymatic digestion of proteins. MATLAB-deployable and standalone versions are available for academic use at and
Conclusion: Isotopic fine structure HDX-MS offers the potential to increase sequence coverage of proteins being analyzed through mass accuracy and deconvolution of overlapping ion signals. As previously demonstrated, however, the data analysis workflow for HDX-MS data with resolved isotopic fine structure is distinct. QUDeX-MS we hope will aid in the adoption of isotopic fine structure HDX-MS by providing an intuitive workflow and interface for data analysis.

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Apr 17

Anaerobic top-down

Bottom-up MS studies typically employ a reduction and alkylation step that eliminates a class of PTM, S-thiolation. Given that molecular oxygen can mediate S-thiolation from reduced thiols, which are abundant in the reducing intracellular milieu, we investigated the possibility that some S-thiolation modifications are artifacts of protein preparation. Cu/Zn-superoxide dismutase (SOD1) was chosen for this case study as it has a reactive surface cysteine residue, which is readily cysteinylated in vitro. The ability of oxygen to generate S-thiolation artifacts was tested by comparing purification of SOD1 from postmortem human cerebral cortex under aerobic and anaerobic conditions. S-thiolation was ∼50% higher in aerobically processed preparations, consistent with oxygen-dependent artifactual S-thiolation. The ability of endogenous small molecule disulfides (e.g. cystine) to participate in artifactual S-thiolation was tested by blocking reactive protein cysteine residues during anaerobic homogenization. A 50-fold reduction in S-thiolation occurred indicating that the majority of S-thiolation observed aerobically was artifact. Tissue-specific artifacts were explored by comparing brain- and blood-derived protein, with remarkably more artifacts observed in brain-derived SOD1. Given the potential for such artifacts, rules of thumb for sample preparation are provided. This study demonstrates that without taking extraordinary precaution, artifactual S-thiolation of highly reactive, surface-exposed, cysteine residues can result.

Read the full paper: Artifacts to avoid while taking advantage of top-down mass spectrometry based detection of protein S-thiolation

Feb 19

Barnett Institute Core Mass Spectrometry Facility

View of our side of the Barnett Institute Core Mass Spectrometry Facility

View of our side of the Barnett Institute Core Mass Spectrometry Facility

Dec 27

Differential neuropeptidomics


Neuropeptides are a diverse category of signaling molecules in the nervous system regulating a variety of processes including food intake, social behavior, circadian rhythms, learning, and memory. Both the identification and functional characterization of specific neuropeptides are ongoing fields of research. Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization-time of flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS) analysis of nervous tissues from a variety of organisms allows direct detection and identification of neuropeptides. Here, we demonstrate an analysis workflow that allows for the detection of differences in specific neuropeptides amongst a variety of neuropeptides being simultaneously measured. For sample preparation, we describe a straight-forward and rapid (minutes) method where individual adult Drosophila melanogaster brains are analyzed. Using a MATLAB-based data analysis workflow, also compatible with MALDI-TOF mass spectra obtained from other sample preparations and instrumentation, we demonstrate how changes in neuropeptides levels can be detected with this method.


Over fifty isotopically resolved ion signals in the peptide mass range are reproducibly observed across experiments. MALDI-TOF MS profile spectra were used to statistically identify distinct relative differences in organ-wide endogenous levels of detected neuropeptides between biological conditions. In particular, three distinct levels of a particular neuropeptide, pigment dispersing factor, were detected by comparing groups of preprocessed spectra obtained from individual brains across three different D. melanogaster strains, each of which express different amounts of this neuropeptide. Using the same sample preparation, MALDI-TOF/TOF tandem mass spectrometry confirmed that at least 14 ion signals observed across experiments are indeed neuropeptides. Among the identified neuropeptides were three products of the neuropeptide-like precursor 1 gene previously not identified in the literature.


Using MALDI-TOF MS and preprocessing/statistical analysis, changes in relative levels of a particular neuropeptide in D. melanogaster tissue can be statistically detected amongst a variety of neuropeptides. While the data analysis methods should be compatible with other sample preparations, the presented sample preparation method was sufficient to identify previously unconfirmed D. melanogaster neuropeptides.

Read the full paper: A rapid MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry workflow for Drosophila melanogaster differential neuropeptidomics

Dec 20

Isotopic Fine Structure HDX MS

Hydrogen/deuterium exchange (HDX) mass spectrometry (MS) is used for analyzing protein dynamics, protein folding/unfolding, and molecular interactions. Until this study, HDX MS experiments employed mass spectral resolving powers that afforded only one peak per nominal mass in a given peptide’s isotope distribution, and HDX MS data analysis methods were developed accordingly. A level of complexity that is inherent to HDX MS remained unaddressed, namely, various combinations of natural abundance heavy isotopes and exchanged deuterium shared the same nominal mass and overlapped at previous resolving powers. For example, an A + 2 peak is comprised of (among other isotopomers) a two-2H-exchanged/zero-13C isotopomer, a one-2H-exchanged/one-13C isotopomer, and a zero-2H-exchanged/two-13C isotopomer. Notably, such isotopomers differ slightly in mass as a result of the ~3 mDa mass defect between 2H and 13C atoms. Previous HDX MS methods did not resolve these isotopomers, requiring a natural-abundance-only (before HDX or “time zero”) spectrum and data processing to remove its contribution. It is demonstrated here that high-resolution mass spectrometry can be used to detect isotopic fine structure, such as in the A + 2 profile example above, deconvolving the isotopomer species resulting from deuterium incorporation. Resolving isotopic fine structure during HDX MS therefore permits direct monitoring of HDX, which can be calculated as the sum of the fractional peak magnitudes of the deuterium-exchanged isotopomers. This obviates both the need for a time zero spectrum as well as data processing to account for natural abundance heavy isotopes, saving instrument and analysis time.

Read the full paper: Resolving Isotopic Fine Structure to Detect and Quantify Natural Abundance- and Hydrogen/Deuterium Exchange-Derived Isotopomers

Aug 26

Structural impact of Cys mod of SOD1

The metalloenzyme Cu/Zn-superoxide dismutase (SOD1) catalyzes the reduction of superoxide anions into molecular oxygen and hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide can oxidize SOD1, resulting in aberrant protein conformational changes, disruption of SOD1 function, and DNA damage. Cells may have evolved mechanisms of regulation that prevent such oxidation. We observed that cysteinylation of cysteine 111 (Cys111) of SOD1 prevents oxidation by peroxide (DOI 10.1021/bi4006122 ). In this article, we characterize cysteinylated SOD1 using differential scanning fluorometry and X-ray crystallography. The stoichiometry of binding was one cysteine per SOD1 dimer, and there does not appear to be free volume for a second cysteine without disrupting the dimer interface. Much of the three-dimensional structure of SOD1 is unaffected by cysteinylation. However, local conformational changes are observed in the cysteinylated monomer that include changes in conformation of the electrostatic loop (loop VII; residues 133-144) and the dimer interface (loop VI; residues 102-115). In addition, our data shows how cysteinylation precludes oxidation of cysteine 111 and suggests possible cross-talk between the dimer interface and the electrostatic loop.

Read the full paper: Structural Consequences of Cysteinylation of Cu/Zn-Superoxide Dismutase

Aug 26

Cysteine modification blocks oxidative damage

Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are cytotoxic. To remove ROS, cells have developed ROS-specific defense mechanisms, including the enzyme Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase (SOD1), which catalyzes the disproportionation of superoxide anions into molecular oxygen and hydrogen peroxide. Although hydrogen peroxide is less reactive than superoxide, it is still capable of oxidizing, unfolding, and inactivating SOD1, at least in vitro. To explore the relevance of post-translational modification (PTM) of SOD1, including peroxide-related modifications, SOD1 was purified from postmortem human nervous tissue. As much as half of all purified SOD1 protein contained non-native post-translational modifications (PTMs), the most prevalent modifications being cysteinylation and peroxide-related oxidations. Many PTMs targeted a single reactive SOD1 cysteine, Cys111. An intriguing observation was that unlike native SOD1, cysteinylated SOD1 was not oxidized. To further characterize how cysteinylation may protect SOD1 from oxidation, cysteine-modified SOD1 was prepared in vitro and exposed to peroxide. Cysteinylation conferred nearly complete protection from peroxide-induced oxidation of SOD1. Moreover, SOD1 that has been cysteinylated and peroxide oxidized in vitro comprised a set of PTMs that bear a striking resemblance to the myriad of PTMs observed in SOD1 purified from human tissue.

Read the full paper: Post-Translational Modification by Cysteine Protects Cu/Zn-Superoxide Dismutase from Oxidative Damage

Jan 17

LC-MS performance evaluation

Selecting a suitable nano-liquid chromatography system (LC), ionization source and mass spectrometer for LC-tandem mass spectrometry (MS-MS) studies is complicated by numerous competing technologies. This study compares four popular nano-LC systems, four ionization sources and three MS facilities that use completely different LC-MS-MS systems. Statistically significant differences in LC performance were identified with similarly performing Proxeon, Waters and Eksigent nanoLC-Ultra systems [retention time routinely at 0.7-0.9% relative standard deviation (RSD)], and all outperformed the Eksigent nanoLC-2D (RSD ∼2%). In addition, compatibility issues were identified between the Bruker HCT ion trap mass spectrometer and both the Eksigent nanoLC-2D and the Bruker nanoelectrospray source. The electrospray source itself had an unexpected and striking effect on chromatographic reproducibility on the Bruker HCT ion trap. The New Objective nanospray source significantly outperformed the Bruker nanospray source in retention time RSD (1% RSD versus 14% RSD, respectively); and the Bruker nebulized nanospray source outperformed both of these traditional, non-nebulized sources (0.5% RSD in retention time). Finally, to provide useful benchmarks for overall proteomics sensitivity, different LC-MS-MS platforms were compared by analyzing a range of concentrations of tryptic digests of bovine serum albumin at three MS facilities. The results indicate that similar sensitivity can be realized with a Bruker HCT-Ultra ion trap, a Thermo LTQ-Velos Linear ion trap and a Thermo LTQ-Orbitrap XL-ETD.

Read the full paper: Performance Comparisons of Nano-LC Systems, Electrospray Sources and LC–MS-MS Platforms

Aug 01

X-linking MS analysis

The small quantities of protein required for mass spectrometry (MS) make it a powerful tool to detect binding (protein-protein, protein-small molecule, etc.) of proteins that are difficult to express in large quantities, as is the case for many intrinsically disordered proteins. Chemical cross-linking, proteolysis, and MS analysis, combined, are a powerful tool for the identification of binding domains. Here, we present a traditional approach to determine protein-protein interaction binding sites using heavy water ((18)O) as a label. This technique is relatively inexpensive and can be performed on any mass spectrometer without specialized software.

Read the full paper: Mass spectrometry tools for analysis of intermolecular interactions

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