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Abstract

The combination of separation techniques and mass spectrometry (MS) for peptide investigation allows superior sensitivity of detection and richer fragmentation data than available by direct MS analysis of a complex mixture. In this regard, liquid chromatography (LC) coupled to electrospray ionization (ESI) and matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) MS have evolved as versatile analytical tools in proteomics. Very often, however, the product ion mass spectrum is either incomplete or overfilled with ions, thus making sequence analysis difficult. Here we report overall ion intensity improvement of C-terminal lysine-containing peptides from Lys-C digest by on-column derivatization of lysines with 2-methoxy-4,5-dihydro-1H-imidazole. The method is simple, fast and exhibits 100% efficiency of the reaction. Additionally, post-source decay carried out on derivatized peptides gave rise almost exclusively to y-series ion formation, at 100% sequence coverage and high intensity. The novelty of the method resides in the side reaction of this derivatization process, namely the methylation of cysteines. This facilitates the estimation of the disulfide bridge position in a protein and the fragmentation of cysteine-containing peptide fragments. Additionally, by using this derivatization procedure, the loss of peptides, their degradation and/or oxidation, usually occurring in digest alkylation procedures, is greatly minimized. The new on-column derivatization protocol is designed to be carried out on C18 Spin Tubes or Cleanup C18 Pipette Tips. We observed that use of buffered D2O solvent prevented unwanted oxidation and degradation reactions with respect to the stationary phase. This may be due to the fact that a deuteron is less polar than a proton, and thus the bonded silica stationary phase saturated with deuterons does not affect the reaction between ε-amino or cysteine thiol groups and 2-methoxy-4,5-dihydro-1H-imidazole. Complete tagging of the peptides by on-column reaction could be obtained when using D2O, as compared to water-based reaction. Methylation of cysteine residues was enhanced when β-mercaptoethanol was added in the reactant solution. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.