Systematic Comparison of Label-Free, SILAC, and TMT Techniques to Study Early Adaption toward Inhibition of EGFR Signaling in the Colorectal Cancer Cell Line DiFi

J Proteome Res. 2020 Feb 7;19(2):926-937. doi: 10.1021/acs.jproteome.9b00701. Epub 2020 Jan 14.


We evaluated the quantification strategies label-free (LF), stable isotope labeling by amino acids in cell culture (SILAC), and tandem mass tags (TMT) and their performance in quantification of proteins and phosphosites (p-sites) to identify the most powerful approach for monitoring cellular signaling. We analyzed the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) signaling network, which plays an essential role in colorectal cancer, and studied its dynamics within 24 h upon treatment with the EGFR-blocking antibody cetuximab, representing the first cellular adaption toward therapy. LF achieved superior coverage but was outperformed by label-based approaches regarding technical variability, especially for quantification of p-sites. TMT showed the lowest coverage and most missing values. We found that its performance considerably decreases when experimental replicates are distributed over several TMT plexes. SILAC showed the highest precision and outstanding performance for quantification of p-sites, rendering it the method of choice for analyzing cellular signaling in cell culture models. On the protein level, we observed only little regulation upon cetuximab treatment, whereas a great fraction of p-sites was significantly regulated. These dynamics represented an initial downregulation of the MAPK pathway, which was partially rescued as early as 24 h after treatment. We identified upregulation and signaling via ERBB3 as well as calcium and cAMP signaling as possible mechanisms bypassing the blockage of EGFR.

Keywords: ERBB3; MAPK; SILAC; TMT; adaptive mechanism; anti-EGFR therapy; cetuximab; colorectal cancer; label-free; phosphoproteomics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • ErbB Receptors / genetics
  • Humans
  • Isotope Labeling
  • Proteomics*


  • EGFR protein, human
  • ErbB Receptors