The phosphorylation of any site on a given protein can affect its activity, degradation rate, ability to dock with other proteins or bind divalent cations, and/or its localization. These effects can operate within the same protein; in fact, multisite phosphorylation is a key mechanism for achieving signal integration in cells. Hence, knowing the overall phosphorylation signature of a protein is essential for understanding the ?state? of a cell. However, current technologies to monitor the phosphorylation status of proteins are inefficient at determining the relative stoichiometries of phosphorylation at multiple sites. Here we report a new capability for comprehensive liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC/MS) analysis of intact phosphoproteins. The technology platform builds upon an integration of bottom-up and top-down approaches that is facilitated by intact protein reversed-phase (RP)LC concurrently coupled with Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FTICR) MS and fraction collection. As the use of conventional RPLC systems for phosphopeptide identification has proven challenging due to the formation of metal ion complexes at various metal surfaces during LC/MS and ESI-MS analysis, we have developed a ?metal-free? RPLC?ESI-MS platform for phosphoprotein characterization. This platform demonstrated a significant sensitivity enhancement for phosphorylated casein proteins enriched from a standard protein mixture and revealed the presence of over 20 casein isoforms arising from genetic variants with varying numbers of phosphorylation sites. The integrated workflow was also applied to an enriched yeast phosphoproteome to evaluate the feasibility of this strategy for characterizing complex biological systems and revealed ?16% of the detected yeast proteins to have multiple phosphorylation isoforms. The intact protein LC/MS platform for characterization of combinatorial post-translational modifications (PTMs), with special emphasis on multisite phosphorylation, holds great promise to significantly extend our understanding of the roles of multiple PTMs on signaling components that control the cellular responses to various stimuli.
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