Probing lysine acetylation with a modification-specific marker ion using high-performance liquid chromatography/electrospray-mass spectrometry with collision-induced dissociation

Anal Chem. 2002 Nov 1;74(21):5443-9. doi: 10.1021/ac0256080.


Posttranslational acetylation of proteins regulates many diverse functions, including DNA recognition, protein-protein interaction, and protein stability. The identification of enzymes that regulate protein acetylation has revealed broader use of this modification than was previously suspected. In this study, we describe a method for identifying protein acetylation at lysine residues by analysis of digested protein using HPLC/ESI-MS with a new modification-specific marker ion. Collision-induced dissociation with capillary or nano-LC/ESI-TOF-MS was used to obtain a fragment ion useful as a marker for acetylated lysine. Although the acetylated lysine immonium ion at m/z 143.1 has been used as a marker ion for detecting acetylated lysine, it can be confused with internal fragment ion in some peptides, producing false positive results. We have found a novel marker ion at m/z 126.1, which is a further fragment ion induced by the loss of NH3 from the acetylated lysine immonium ions at m/z 143.1. This novel marker ion was found to be more specific and approximately 9 times more sensitive than the immonium ion at m/z 143.1. In addition, no interfering ions for acetylated peptides were found in the extracted ion chromatogram at m/z 126.1. The utility of this method was demonstrated with acetylated cytochrome c as a model compound. After the modification was probed by the new marker ion, the acetylated lysine site was determined by the CID-MS spectrum. This method was applied to identify histone H4 acetylation in HeLa cells treated with trichostatin A. Three protein bands separated by acid-urea-Triton gel electrophoresis were confirmed as tetra, tri, and diacetylated histone H4 at lysines 5, 8, 12, and 16. This method may be useful for assaying for lysine acetylation, which is an important regulatory process for a range of biological functions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylation
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid / methods*
  • Cytochrome c Group / chemistry
  • Cytochrome c Group / metabolism*
  • HeLa Cells
  • Histones / chemistry
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hydroxamic Acids / pharmacology
  • Lysine / chemistry
  • Lysine / metabolism*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization / methods*


  • Cytochrome c Group
  • Histones
  • Hydroxamic Acids
  • trichostatin A
  • Lysine