Chemical cross-linkers for protein structure studies by mass spectrometry


Correspondence: Pr. Gilles Subra, Institut des Biomolécules Max Mousseron (IBMM), UMR5247 CNRS, Universités Montpellier 1 et 2, 15 avenue Charles Flahault, 34000 Montpellier, France


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The cross-linking approach combined with MS for protein structure determination is one of the most striking examples of multidisciplinary success. Indeed, it has become clear that the bottleneck of the method was the detection and the identification of low-abundance cross-linked peptides in complex mixtures. Sample treatment or chromatography separation partially addresses these issues. However, the main problem comes from over-represented unmodified peptides, which do not yield any structural information. A real breakthrough was provided by high mass accuracy measurement, because of the outstanding technical developments in MS. This improvement greatly simplified the identification of cross-linked peptides, reducing the possible combinations matching with an observed m/z value. In addition, the huge amount of data collected has to be processed with dedicated software whose role is to propose distance constraints or ideally a structural model of the protein. In addition to instrumentation and algorithms efficiency, significant efforts have been made to design new cross-linkers matching all the requirements in terms of reactivity and selectivity but also displaying probes or reactive systems facilitating the isolation, the detection of cross-links, or the interpretation of MS data. These chemical features are reviewed and commented on in the light of the more recent strategies.