A method to identify and simultaneously determine the relative quantities of proteins isolated by gel electrophoresis

Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom. 2002;16(15):1416-24. doi: 10.1002/rcm.734.


Gel electrophoresis is often used for the primary analysis and purification of proteins, and peptide mapping by matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry (MALDI-MS) is a widely used technique for the rapid identification of unknown proteins. The identification is usually obtained by digesting the protein with an enzyme and matching the masses of the proteolytic peptides with those of each protein in a sequence database. Another important aspect in many proteomic experiments is the determination of the relative protein quantities (e.g. comparison between control and altered states). Usually, this is obtained by comparing the spot intensities of two independent gels. This procedure is time-consuming and not very accurate. Recently, several methodologies using isotope labeling of proteins for quantitative proteomic studies have been introduced (e.g. using ICAT reagents or growing cells in isotopically enriched nutrients). However, none of these methodologies is foolproof and there is still the need for simple and inexpensive alternatives for determining the relative quantities of proteins. Previously, we showed that a mixture of acrylamide and deuterated acrylamide could be used as cysteine alkylating reagent prior to electrophoresis, improving the coverage and the confidence of the protein identification procedure (Sechi S, Chait BT. Anal. Chem. 1998; 70: 5150). Here we show that a similar approach can be used to obtain relative quantitation at the femtomole level of proteins isolated by gel electrophoresis. Deuterated acrylamide is used to alkylate the cysteines in one sample and regular acrylamide is used to alkylate the cysteines in the second sample. The two samples are then mixed together in a 1:1 ratio and the relative protein quantities are determined from the ion intensity ratios of the two cysteine-containing peptides isotopic envelopes (regular/deuterated). The analysis of several proteins mixed in different ratios is reported showing that this approach can reliably be used for protein identification and quantification. Briefly, a simple and inexpensive method for quantifying and simultaneously identifying proteins isolated by gel electrophoresis using MALDI-MS is presented.

MeSH terms

  • Alkylating Agents
  • Alkylation
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Cysteine / chemistry
  • Electrophoresis, Polyacrylamide Gel
  • Indicators and Reagents
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Protein Hydrolysates / chemistry
  • Proteins / analysis*
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption-Ionization
  • Trypsin / chemistry


  • Alkylating Agents
  • Indicators and Reagents
  • Protein Hydrolysates
  • Proteins
  • Trypsin
  • Cysteine