Utility of cleavable isotope-coded affinity-tagged reagents for quantification of low-copy proteins induced by methylprednisolone using liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry

Anal Chem. 2006 Jul 1;78(13):4543-52. doi: 10.1021/ac0521697.


Gene expression changes underlie important biological and pharmacological responses. Although mRNA expression profiling is routine, quantification of low-abundance proteins, which typically represent key effectors of responses, remains challenging. A novel strategy was developed for sensitive and accurate quantification of low-abundance proteins in highly complex biological matrixes. First, the cysteine specificity of cleavable isotope-coded affinity tags (cICAT) was employed to reduce the complexity of the digested proteome of tissue homogenates and to improve the quantification of low-abundance proteins. Second, cICAT-treated tissue samples were analyzed on a capillary LC coupled to an ion trap MS to screen for the subset of cICAT-peptides, derived from target proteins of interest, that was successfully labeled and retrieved. Third, putatively identified peptides derived from target proteins were synthesized, cICAT-labeled, and used both to optimize multiple reactions monitoring (MRM) analysis and to confirm chromatographic retention time and fragmentation pattern. Finally, batch quantification of target peptides was performed using MRM on a LC/triple-quad MS/MS using (12)C- (control) and (13)C (experimental)-cICAT-labeled tissue mixtures. The utility of this method was demonstrated by elucidating the time-course of tyrosine aminotransferase induction in the liver of rats following treatment with the corticosteroid methylprednisolone (MPL). This approach significantly improved quantitative sensitivity, and the linear range was 10-fold greater than published previously. An additional advantage is that archived samples may be reinterrogated to investigate the regulation of additional targets that become of interest. Stored samples were sucessfully reinterrogated to monitor the induction of ornithine decarboxylase, which is also an MPL-induced protein. To our knowledge, this is the first report of an ICAT-based method that is capable of quantifying low-abundance proteins in highly complex samples, such as tissue homogenates. The approach enables simultaneous quantification of multiple effector proteins induced by biological or pharmacological stimuli, and the processed samples can be interrogated repeatedly as additional targets of interest arise.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Affinity Labels*
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid / methods*
  • Male
  • Methylprednisolone / pharmacology*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Proteins / analysis*
  • Proteins / chemistry
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry / methods*


  • Affinity Labels
  • Proteins
  • Methylprednisolone