Identification and characterization of molecular targets of natural products by mass spectrometry

Mass Spectrom Rev. Jan-Feb 2010;29(1):126-55. doi: 10.1002/mas.20235.


Natural products, and their derivatives and mimics, have contributed to the development of important therapeutics to combat diseases such as infections and cancers over the past decades. The value of natural products to modern drug discovery is still considerable. However, its development is hampered by a lack of a mechanistic understanding of their molecular action, as opposed to the emerging molecule-targeted therapeutics that are tailored to a specific protein target(s). Recent advances in the mass spectrometry-based proteomic approaches have the potential to offer unprecedented insights into the molecular action of natural products. Chemical proteomics is established as an invaluable tool for the identification of protein targets of natural products. Small-molecule affinity selection combined with mass spectrometry is a successful strategy to "fish" cellular targets from the entire proteome. Mass spectrometry-based profiling of protein expression is also routinely employed to elucidate molecular pathways involved in the therapeutic and possible toxicological responses upon treatment with natural products. In addition, mass spectrometry is increasingly utilized to probe structural aspects of natural products-protein interactions. Limited proteolysis, photoaffinity labeling, and hydrogen/deuterium exchange in conjunction with mass spectrometry are sensitive and high-throughput strategies that provide low-resolution structural information of non-covalent natural product-protein complexes. In this review, we provide an overview on the applications of mass spectrometry-based techniques in the identification and characterization of natural product-protein interactions, and we describe how these applications might revolutionize natural product-based drug discovery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Products / analysis*
  • Biological Products / metabolism*
  • Drug Design
  • Humans
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Proteins / analysis*
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • Proteomics / methods*


  • Biological Products
  • Proteins