Complete Workflow for Analysis of Histone Post-translational Modifications Using Bottom-up Mass Spectrometry: From Histone Extraction to Data Analysis

J Vis Exp. 2016 May 17;(111):54112. doi: 10.3791/54112.


Nucleosomes are the smallest structural unit of chromatin, composed of 147 base pairs of DNA wrapped around an octamer of histone proteins. Histone function is mediated by extensive post-translational modification by a myriad of nuclear proteins. These modifications are critical for nuclear integrity as they regulate chromatin structure and recruit enzymes involved in gene regulation, DNA repair and chromosome condensation. Even though a large part of the scientific community adopts antibody-based techniques to characterize histone PTM abundance, these approaches are low throughput and biased against hypermodified proteins, as the epitope might be obstructed by nearby modifications. This protocol describes the use of nano liquid chromatography (nLC) and mass spectrometry (MS) for accurate quantification of histone modifications. This method is designed to characterize a large variety of histone PTMs and the relative abundance of several histone variants within single analyses. In this protocol, histones are derivatized with propionic anhydride followed by digestion with trypsin to generate peptides of 5 - 20 aa in length. After digestion, the newly exposed N-termini of the histone peptides are derivatized to improve chromatographic retention during nLC-MS. This method allows for the relative quantification of histone PTMs spanning four orders of magnitude.

Publication types

  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry


  • Histones