A study of peptide--peptide interaction by matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization

J Am Soc Mass Spectrom. 2001 Jan;12(1):88-96. doi: 10.1016/S1044-0305(00)00197-5.


Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) mass spectrometry was used to study peptide-peptide interaction. The interaction was seen when 6-aza-2-thiothymine was used as a matrix (pH 5.4), but was disrupted with a more acidic matrix, alpha-cyano-4-hydroxycinnamic acid (pH 2.0). In the present study, we show that dynorphin, an opioid peptide, and five of its fragments that contain two adjacent basic residues (Arg6-Arg7), all interact noncovalently with peptides that contain two to five adjacent acidic residues (Asp or Glu). Two other nonrelated peptides containing two (Arg6-Arg7) or three (Arg1-Lys2-Arg3) adjacent basic amino acid residues were studied and exhibited the same behavior. However, peptides containing adjacent Lys or His did not form noncovalent complexes with acidic peptides. The noncovalent bonding was sufficiently stable that digestion with trypsin only cleaved Arg and Lys residues that were not involved in hydrogen bonding with the acidic residues. In an equimolar mixture of dynorphin, dynorphin fragments (containing the motif RR), and an acidic peptide (minigastrin), the acidic peptide preferentially complexed with dynorphin. If the concentration of minigastrin was increased 10 fold, noncovalent interaction was seen with dynorphin and all its fragments containing the motif RR. In the absence of dynorphin, minigastrin formed noncovalent complexes with all dynorphin fragments. These findings suggest that conformation, equilibrium, and concentration do play a role in the occurrence of peptide-peptide interaction. Observations from this study include: (1) ionic bonds were not disrupted by enzymatic digests, (2) conformation and concentration influenced complex formation, and (3) the complex did not form with fragments of dynorphin or unrelated peptides that did not contain the motifs RR or RKR, nor with a fragment of dynorphin where Arg7 was mutated to a phenylalanine residue. These findings strongly suggest that peptide-peptide interaction does occur, and can be studied by MALDI if near physiologic pH is maintained.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Coumaric Acids / chemistry
  • DNA Footprinting
  • Dynorphins / chemistry
  • Hydrolysis
  • Indicators and Reagents
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Peptide Fragments / chemistry
  • Peptides / chemistry*
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption-Ionization
  • Thymine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Thymine / chemistry
  • Triazines
  • Trypsin / chemistry


  • Coumaric Acids
  • Indicators and Reagents
  • Peptide Fragments
  • Peptides
  • Triazines
  • alpha-cyano-4-hydroxycinnamate
  • 2-thio-6-azathymine
  • Dynorphins
  • Trypsin
  • Thymine