Comprehensive identification of protein disulfide bonds with pepsin/trypsin digestion, Orbitrap HCD and Spectrum Identification Machine

J Proteomics. 2019 Apr 30;198:78-86. doi: 10.1016/j.jprot.2018.12.010. Epub 2018 Dec 14.


Disulfide bonds (SS) are post-translational modifications important for the proper folding and stabilization of many cellular proteins with therapeutic uses, including antibodies and other biologics. With budding advances of biologics and biosimilars, there is a mounting need for a robust method for accurate identification of SS. Even though several mass spectrometry methods have emerged for this task, their practical use rests on the broad effectiveness of both sample preparation methods and bioinformatics tools. Here we present a new protocol tailored toward mapping SS; it uses readily available reagents, instruments, and software. For sample preparation, a 4-h pepsin digestion at pH 1.3 followed by an overnight trypsin digestion at pH 6.5 can maximize the release of SS-containing peptides from non-reduced proteins, while minimizing SS scrambling. For LC/MS/MS analysis, SS-containing peptides can be efficiently fragmented with HCD in a Q Exactive Orbitrap mass spectrometer, preserving SS for subsequent identification. Our bioinformatics protocol describes how we tailored our freely downloadable and easy-to-use software, Spectrum Identification Machine for Cross-Linked Peptides (SIM-XL), to minimize false identification and facilitate manual validation of SS-peptide mass spectra. To substantiate this optimized method, we've comprehensively identified 14 out of 17 known SS in BSA. SIGNIFICANCE: Comprehensive and accurate identification of SS in proteins is critical for elucidating protein structures and functions. Yet, it is far from routine to accomplish this task in many analytical or core laboratories. Numerous published methods require complex sample preparation methods, specialized mass spectrometers and cumbersome or proprietary software tools, thus cannot be easily implemented in unspecialized laboratories. Here, we describe a robust and rapid SS mapping approach that utilizes readily available reagents, instruments, and software; it can be easily implemented in any analytical core laboratories, and tested for its impact on the research community.

Keywords: HCD; Pepsin; Protein disulfide bond; SIM-XL; Tandem mass spectrometry; Trypsin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Chickens
  • Disulfides / analysis*
  • Disulfides / chemistry
  • Mass Spectrometry*
  • Pepsin A / chemistry*
  • Peptides / analysis*
  • Peptides / chemistry
  • Trypsin / chemistry*


  • Disulfides
  • Peptides
  • Trypsin
  • Pepsin A