Overalkylation of a protein digest with iodoacetamide

Anal Chem. 2001 Aug 1;73(15):3576-82. doi: 10.1021/ac0103423.


Cystine linkages in proteins are often opened with reducing agents, sometimes to improve their digestion, often to eliminate disulfide linkages from complicating analysis of the digest. After reduction, the sulfhydryls are usually reacted with iodoacetamide (IAM), iodoacetic acid (IAA), or another electrophile to prevent reformation of disulfide linkages in a random manner. When the amount of protein may be reliably estimated, side reactions from excess IAM or IAA can be avoided. When this is not so, removal of excess iodoalkane can be accomplished by HPLC, by dialysis, or simply by allowing a reducing thiol to consume any excess. In mass spectrometric analysis of proteins isolated by 1D or 2D gels, removal of the excess iodoalkane is often accomplished simply by washing the gel prior to proteolytic digestion. During a recent study of the glutathionylation site mapping of actin, IAM was used to block any residual sulfhydryl groups remaining on the protein so that they would not displace glutathione from its initial site. In addition, to avoid losses due to actin polymerization during dialysis, the IAM was allowed to remain during the digestion. This further ensured that any sulfhydryl groups liberated during the digestion would be similarly blocked by the IAM. Under these conditions, we observed the peptides to undergo N- as well as S-carbamidomethylation. In examining a series of other peptides alkylated with IAM in this way, we have found N-alkylation to be the rule rather than the exception and even O-alkylation was detected. The main sites to which the carbamidomethyl group attaches to the peptides have been located with LC-MS2 using an ion trap mass spectrometer and found to be the N-terminal amino group. A simple expedient to prevent such reactions when an excess of reducing agent must be avoided is to run the alkylation in the presence of a thioether such as 2,2'-thiodiethanol rather than a thiol.

MeSH terms

  • Actins / chemistry*
  • Alkylation
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Cysteine / chemistry
  • Hydrolysis
  • Iodoacetamide / chemistry*
  • Iodoacetic Acid / chemistry*
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Peptides / analysis*
  • Peptides / chemistry*
  • Proteins / chemistry
  • Sulfhydryl Reagents / chemistry


  • Actins
  • Peptides
  • Proteins
  • Sulfhydryl Reagents
  • Cysteine
  • Iodoacetic Acid
  • Iodoacetamide