Sensing Small Changes in Protein Abundance: Stimulation of Caco-2 Cells by Human Whey Proteins

J Proteome Res. 2016 Jan 4;15(1):125-43. doi: 10.1021/acs.jproteome.5b00597. Epub 2015 Dec 15.


Mass spectrometry (MS)-based proteomic approaches have largely facilitated our systemic understanding of cellular processes and biological functions. Cutoffs in protein expression fold changes (FCs) are often arbitrarily determined in MS-based quantification with no demonstrable determination of small magnitude changes in protein expression. Therefore, many biological insights may remain veiled due to high FC cutoffs. Herein, we employ the intestinal epithelial cell (IEC) line Caco-2 as a model system to demonstrate the dynamicity of tandem-mass-tag (TMT) labeling over a range of 5-40% changes in protein abundance, with the variance controls of ± 5% FC for around 95% of TMT ratios when sampling 9-12 biological replicates. We further applied this procedure to examine the temporal proteome of Caco-2 cells upon exposure to human whey proteins (WP). Pathway assessments predict subtle effects due to WP in moderating xenobiotic metabolism, promoting proliferation and various other cellular functions in differentiating enterocyte-like Caco-2 cells. This demonstration of a sensitive MS approach may open up new perspectives in the system-wide exploration of elusive or transient biological effects by facilitating scrutiny of narrow windows of proteome abundance changes. Furthermore, we anticipate this study will encourage more investigations of WP on infant gastrointestinal tract development.

Keywords: Caco-2; TMT; intestinal epithelial cells; milk proteins; quantitative proteomics.

MeSH terms

  • Caco-2 Cells
  • Chromatography, Reverse-Phase
  • Epithelial Cells / drug effects
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / cytology
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / growth & development
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Proteome / isolation & purification
  • Proteome / metabolism*
  • Proteomics / methods
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry
  • Whey Proteins / pharmacology*


  • Proteome
  • Whey Proteins