Glycans are cell-type-specific, posttranslational protein modifications that are modulated during developmental and disease processes. As such, glycoproteins are attractive biomarker candidates. Here, we describe a mass spectrometry-based workflow that incorporates lectin affinity chromatography to enrich for proteins that carry specific glycan structures. As increases in sialylation and fucosylation are prominent among cancer-associated modifications, we focused on Sambucus nigra agglutinin (SNA) and Aleuria aurantia lectin (AAL), lectins which bind sialic acid- and fucose-containing structures, respectively. Fucosylated and sialylated glycopeptides from human lactoferrin served as positive controls, and high-mannose structures from yeast invertase served as negative controls. The standards were spiked into Multiple Affinity Removal System (MARS) 14-depleted, trypsin-digested human plasma from healthy donors. Samples were loaded onto lectin columns, separated by HPLC into flow-through and bound fractions, and treated with peptide: N-glycosidase F to remove N-linked glycans. The deglycosylated peptide fractions were interrogated by ESI HPLC-MS/MS. We identified a total of 122 human plasma glycoproteins containing 247 unique glycosites. Importantly, several of the observed glycoproteins (e.g., cadherin 5 and neutrophil gelatinase-associated lipocalin) typically circulate in plasma at low nanogram per milliliter levels. Together, these results provide mass spectrometry-based evidence of the utility of incorporating lectin-separation platforms into cancer biomarker discovery pipelines.
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