Development of a liquid chromatography-based screening methodology for proteolytic enzyme activity

J Chromatogr A. 2009 May 15;1216(20):4407-15. doi: 10.1016/j.chroma.2009.03.053. Epub 2009 Mar 25.


A new methodology for the detection and isolation of serine proteases in complex mixtures has been developed. It combines the characterization of crude samples by electrospray tandem mass spectrometry (ESI-MS/MS) in a multi-substrate assay and the differentiated sensitive detection of the responsible enzymes by means of liquid chromatography hyphenated online to biochemical detection (BCD). First, active samples are identified in the multi-substrate assay monitoring the conversion of eight substrates in multiple reaction monitoring in parallel within 60s. Hereby, the product patterns are investigated and the suitable peptide as substrate for BCD analysis is selected. Subsequently, the active proteases are identified online in the continuous-flow reactor serving as BCD after non-denaturing separation by size-exclusion chromatography and ion-exchange chromatography. For BCD, the selected para-nitroaniline (pNA) labeled peptide is added post-column and is cleaved by eluting proteases under release of the coloured pNA in a reaction coil (reaction time 5min). The method was optimized and the figures of merit were characterized with trypsin and chymotrypsin serving as the model proteases. For trypsin, a limit of detection in LC-BCD of 0.1U/mL corresponding to an injected amount of 0.4ng protein ( approximately 18fmol) was observed. The BCD signal remained linear for an injected enzyme concentration of 0.3-10U/mL (1.3-42ng enzyme). The method was applied to the characterization of the crude venom of the pit viper Bothrops moojeni and the extracellular protease of the pathogenic amoeba Acanthamoeba castellanii. In the two samples, fractions with proteolytic activity potentially interfering with the blood coagulation cascade were identified. The described methodology represents a tool for serine protease screening in complex mixtures by a fast ESI-MS/MS identification of active samples followed by the separation and isolation of active sample constituents in LC-BCD.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acanthamoeba castellanii / chemistry
  • Acanthamoeba castellanii / enzymology
  • Animals
  • Bothrops / metabolism
  • Chromatography, Liquid / methods*
  • Protozoan Proteins / analysis*
  • Protozoan Proteins / isolation & purification
  • Serine Endopeptidases / analysis*
  • Serine Endopeptidases / isolation & purification
  • Viper Venoms / chemistry
  • Viper Venoms / enzymology*


  • Protozoan Proteins
  • Viper Venoms
  • Serine Endopeptidases