Tandem mass tags (TMT) are usually introduced at the levels of isolated proteins or peptides. Here, for the first time, we report the labeling of whole cells and a critical evaluation of its performance in comparison to conventional labeling approaches. The obtained results indicated that TMT protein labeling using intact cells is generally possible, if it is coupled to a subsequent enrichment using anti-TMT antibody. The quantitative results were similar to those obtained after labeling of isolated proteins and both were found to be slightly complementary to peptide labeling. Furthermore, when using NHS-based TMT, no specificity towards cell surface proteins was observed in the case of cell labeling. In summary, the conducted study revealed first evidence for the general possibility of TMT cell labeling and highlighted limitations of NHS-based labeling reagents. Future studies should therefore focus on the synthesis and investigation of membrane impermeable TMTs to increase specificity towards cell surface proteins.
Keywords: Quantitative proteomics; bioanalytical chemistry; labeling; mass spectrometry; tandem mass tags.