Electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI/MS) affords a rapid and sensitive technique for determining peptides produced by the enzymatic digestion of phosphoroteins. When coupled with on-line immobilized metal-ion affinity chromatography (IMAC), the combmation allows separation and mass spectrometric identification of phosphorylated and nonphosphorylated peptides. In this study, the feasibility and general applicability of on-line IMAC/ESI/MS is investigated by using immobilized ferric ions for selective chelation of several phosphotyrosine and phosphoserine peptides. The sensitivity and practicality of the technique for phosphoproteins are demonstrated via the analysis of 30 pmol (∼0.7 μg) of bovine β-casein purified by sodium dodecylsulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, electroblotted onto a polyvinylidene difluoride membrane, and digested in situ with trypsin. It is observed that on-line IMAC/ESI/MS suffers less from sample losses than experiments performed off-line, suggesting that the limiting factors in sensitivity for this technique are the purification procedures and sample handling rather than the IMAC and mass spectrometry. Thus, the ability to inject the tryptic digest of an electroblotted protein directly onto the column without buffer exchange and to analyze the eluent directly via on-line coupling of the IMAC column to the mass spectrometer greatly reduces sample losses incurred through sample handling and provides a convenient method for analyzing phosphopeptides at low levels. © 1993 American Society for Mass Spectrometry.
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