Quantitative Multiplex Substrate Profiling of Peptidases by Mass Spectrometry

Mol Cell Proteomics. 2019 May;18(5):968-981. doi: 10.1074/mcp.TIR118.001099. Epub 2019 Jan 31.


Proteolysis is an integral component of life and has been implicated in many disease processes. To improve our understanding of peptidase function, it is imperative to develop tools to uncover substrate specificity and cleavage efficiency. Here, we combine the quantitative power of tandem mass tags (TMTs) with an established peptide cleavage assay to yield quantitative Multiplex Substrate Profiling by Mass Spectrometry (qMSP-MS). This assay was validated with papain, a well-characterized cysteine peptidase, to generate cleavage efficiency values for hydrolysis of 275 unique peptide bonds in parallel. To demonstrate the breath of this assay, we show that qMSP-MS can uncover the substrate specificity of minimally characterized intramembrane rhomboid peptidases, as well as define hundreds of proteolytic activities in complex biological samples, including secretions from lung cancer cell lines. Importantly, our qMSP-MS library uses synthetic peptides whose termini are unmodified, allowing us to characterize not only endo- but also exo-peptidase activity. Each cleaved peptide sequence can be ranked by turnover rate, and the amino acid sequence of the best substrates can be used for designing fluorescent reporter substrates. Discovery of peptide substrates that are selectively cleaved by peptidases which are active at the site of disease highlights the potential for qMSP-MS to guide the development of peptidase-activating drugs for cancer and infectious disease.

Keywords: Lung cancer; Mass Spectrometry; Proteases*; Proteolysis*; Rhomboid; Secretome; Substrate profiling; Tandem mass tag.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aspergillus / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Fluorescence
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Papain / metabolism
  • Peptide Hydrolases / metabolism*
  • Proteolysis
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Substrate Specificity


  • Peptide Hydrolases
  • Papain