Analysis of protein phosphorylation by a combination of elastase digestion and neutral loss tandem mass spectrometry

Anal Chem. 2001 Jan 15;73(2):170-6. doi: 10.1021/ac000826j.


Loss of phosphoric acid is the most effective fragmentation reaction of pSer- and pThr-containing phosphopeptides of small size (up to 10-15 residues) in low-energy collision-induced dissociation. Therefore, tandem mass spectrometry with neutral loss scanning was evaluated for its utility to analyze protein phosphorylation using protein kinase A (PKA) catalytic subunit, which is phosphorylated at Thr197 and Ser338, as an example. Analysis of tryptic digests of phosphoproteins by tandem mass spectrometry with scanning for neutral loss of phosphoric acid resulted in spectra with poor signal-to-noise ratio, mainly because of the large size of the phosphopeptides formed (>2 kDa). This unfavorable size was caused by the distribution of tryptic cleavage sites in PKA and by interference of phosphorylation with tryptic cleavage. To generate a set of smaller peptide fragments, digestion was performed using the low-specificity protease elastase. Analysis of the total elastase digest with neutral loss scanning resulted in observation of a set of partially overlapping phosphopeptides with high abundance, providing a complete coverage of PKA phosphorylation sites. The peptide size generated by elastase (0.5-1.5 kDa) is ideally suited for this scan mode, which was found to provide the highest specificity for detection of singly charged phosphopeptides (neutral loss of 98). Identification of the PKA phosphorylation sites was performed by mass spectrometric sequencing of the elastase-derived phosphopeptides, which provided highly informative product ion spectra.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Cyclic AMP-Dependent Protein Kinases / chemistry*
  • Hydrolysis
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Pancreatic Elastase / chemistry*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Trypsin


  • Cyclic AMP-Dependent Protein Kinases
  • Pancreatic Elastase
  • Trypsin