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Single-step protease cleavage elution for identification of protein–protein interactions from GST pull-down and mass spectrometry



The study of protein–protein interactions is a major theme in biological disciplines. Pull-down or affinity-precipitation assays using GST fusion proteins have become one of the most common and valuable approaches to identify novel binding partners for proteins of interest (bait). Non-specific binding of prey proteins to the beads or to GST itself, however, inevitably complicates and impedes subsequent analysis of pull-down results. A variety of measures, each with inherent advantages and limitations, can minimise the extent of the background. This technical brief details and tests a modification of established GST pull-down protocols. By specifically eluting only the bait (minus the GST tag) and the associated non-specific binding proteins with a simple, single-step protease cleavage, a cleaner platform for downstream protein identification with MS is established. We present a proof of concept for this method, as evidenced by a GST pull-down/MS case study of the small guanosine triphosphatase (GTPase) Rab31 in which: (i) sensitivity was enhanced, (ii) a reduced level of background was observed, (iii) distinguishability of non-specific contaminant proteins from genuine binders was improved and (iv) a putative new protein–protein interaction was discovered. Our protease cleavage step is readily applicable to all further affinity tag pull-downs.