A novel strategy for the determination of protein phosphorylation sites is described and applied to the polo-like kinases Plx1 (Xenopus laevis) and Plk1 (Homo sapiens). The strategy comprises the sequential application of the following techniques: proteolytic digestion, capillary liquid chromatography (LC)-inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry with phosphorus detection, capillary LC-electrospray mass spectrometry and electrospray tandem mass spectrometry. In this approach, phosphopeptides are generated, their elution time in capillary LC is determined, candidate phosphopeptides at the corresponding elution times are identified, and positive identification and sequencing of phosphopeptides is performed in the last step of the analysis. Using this technique, Ser25/26, Ser326, and Ser340 were identified as phosphorylation sites in recombinant Plx1, and Ser340 was identified as the major phosphorylation site in a kinase-dead mutant of Plx1 expressed in okadaic acid-treated Sf9 insect cells. A site corresponding to Ser326 in Plx1 was also shown to be phosphorylated in the human polo-like kinase Plk1 (Ser335). Element mass spectrometry with phosphorus detection provides a quantitative phosphorylation profile of all phosphorylation sites accessible by LC.
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