Styrene maleic acid recovers proteins from mammalian cells and tissues while avoiding significant cell death

Sci Rep. 2019 Nov 25;9(1):16408. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-51896-1.


Detection of protein biomarkers is an important tool for medical diagnostics, typically exploiting concentration of particular biomarkers or biomarker release from tissues. We sought to establish whether proteins not normally released by living cells can be extracted without harming cells, with a view to extending this into biomarker harvest for medical diagnosis and other applications. Styrene maleic acid (SMA) is a polymer that extracts nanodiscs of biological membranes (containing membrane proteins) from cells. Hitherto it has been used to harvest SMA-lipid-membrane protein particles (SMALP) for biochemical study, by destroying the living cellular specimen. In this study, we applied SMA at low concentration to human primary cardiovascular cells and rat vascular tissue, to 'biopsy' cell proteins while avoiding significant reductions in cell viability. SMA at 6.25 parts per million harvested proteins from cells and tissues without causing significant release of cytosolic dye (calcein) or reduction in cell viability at 24 and 72 hours post-SMA (MTT assay). A wide range of proteins were recovered (20-200 kDa) and a number identified by mass spectrometry: this confirmed protein recovery from plasma membrane, intracellular membranes and cell cytosol without associated cell death. These data demonstrate the feasibility of non-lethally sampling proteins from cells, greatly extending our sampling capability, which could yield new physiological and/or pathological biomarkers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Death
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Fibroblasts / cytology
  • Fibroblasts / drug effects
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Heart / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Lipid-Linked Proteins / analysis*
  • Maleates / chemistry
  • Maleates / pharmacology*
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / cytology*
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / drug effects
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / metabolism
  • Myocardium / cytology*
  • Myocardium / metabolism
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / cytology
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / drug effects
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / metabolism
  • Primary Cell Culture
  • Rats
  • Styrene / chemistry*


  • Lipid-Linked Proteins
  • Maleates
  • Styrene
  • maleic acid