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Keywords:

  • negative-ion electron-capture;
  • electrospray ionization;
  • misidentification;
  • stable isotopes;
  • tandem mass spectrometry

Abstract

Reactive-nitrogen species (RNS) such as peroxynitrite (ONOO), that is, the reaction product of nitric oxide (NO) and superoxide (O2−•), nitryl chloride (NO2Cl) and NO2 react with the activated aromatic ring of tyrosine to form 3-nitrotyrosine. This modification, which has been known for more than a century, occurs to both the free form of the amino acid (i.e., soluble/free tyrosine) and to tyrosine residues covalently bound within the backbone of peptides and proteins. Nitration of tyrosine is thought to be of biological significance and has been linked to health and disease, but determining its role has proved challenging. Several key questions have been the focus of much of the research activity: (a) to what extent is free/soluble tyrosine nitrated in biological tissues and fluids, and (b) are there specific site(s) of nitration within peptides/proteins and to what extent (i.e., stoichiometry) does this modification occur? These issues have been addressed in a wide range of sample types (e.g., blood, urine, CSF, exhaled breath condensate and various tissues) and a diverse array of physiological/pathophysiological scenarios. The accurate determination of nitrated tyrosine is, however, a stumbling block. Despite extensive study, the extent to which nitration occurs in vivo, the specificity of the nitration reaction, and its importance in health and disease, remain unclear. In this review, we highlight the analytical challenges and discuss the approaches adopted to address them. Mass spectrometry, in combination with either gas chromatography (GC-MS, GC-MS/MS) or liquid chromatography (LC-MS/MS), has played the central role in the analysis of 3-nitrotyrosine and tyrosine-nitrated biological macromolecules. We discuss its unique attributes and highlight the role of stable-isotope labeled 3-nitrotyrosine analogs in both accurate quantification, and in helping to define the biological relevance of tyrosine nitration. We show that the application of sophisticated mass spectrometric techniques is advantageous if not essential, but that this alone is by no means a guarantee of accurate findings. We discuss the important analytical challenges in quantifying 3-nitrotyrosine, possible workarounds, and we attempt to make sense of the disparate findings that have been reported so far. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Mass Spec Rev 33: 237–276, 2014.