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Keywords:

  • porous silicon;
  • microparticles;
  • low-molecular-weight proteins;
  • MALDI;
  • biomarkers

Abstract

Mining the disease information contained in the low-molecular-weight range of a proteomic profile is becoming of increasing interest in cancer research. This work evaluates the ability of nanoporous silicon microparticles (NPSMPs) to capture, enrich, protect, and detect low-molecular-weight peptides (LMWPs) sieved from a pool of highly abundant plasma proteins. The average pore size and porosity of NPSMPs are controlled by the electrochemical preparation conditions, and the critical parameters for admission or exclusion of protein with a definite molecular weight are determined by reflectometric-interference Fourier transform spectroscopy (RIFTS). Sodium dodecyl sulfate polyacrylamide-gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) and matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization time-of-flight (MALDI-TOF) analysis of the proteins captured by the NPSMPs show that the chemical nature of the NPSMPs surface and the solution pH also play vital roles in determining the affinity of NPSMPs for target analytes. It is found that carboxyl-terminated porous microparticles with a porosity of 26% (pore diameter around 9.0 nm) specifically fractionate, enrich and protect LMWPs sieved from either simulated samples or human serum samples. Moreover, NPSMPs containing captured peptides can be directly spotted onto a MALDI plate. When placed in a conventional MALDI matrix, laser irradiation of the particles results in the release of the target peptides confined in the nanopores, which are then ionized and detected in the MALDI experiment. As a proof-of-principle test case, mass spectra of NPSMPs prepared using serum from colorectal cancer patients and from control patients can be clearly distinguished by statistical analysis. The work demonstrates the utility of the method for discovery of biomarkers in the untapped LMWP fraction of human serum, which can be of significant value in the early diagnosis and management of diseases.