Activity-Based Sensing for Site-Specific Proteomic Analysis of Cysteine Oxidation

Acc Chem Res. 2020 Jan 21;53(1):20-31. doi: 10.1021/acs.accounts.9b00562. Epub 2019 Dec 23.


Oxidative post-translational modifications (OxiPTMs) of cysteine residues are the molecular foundation of thiol-based redox regulation that modulates physiological events such as cell proliferation, differentiation, and migration and, when dysregulated, can lead to biomolecule damage and cell death. Common OxiPTMs of cysteine thiols (-SH) include reversible modifications such as S-sulfenylation (-SOH), S-glutathionylation (-SSG), disulfide formation (-SSR), S-nitrosylation (-SNO), and S-sulfhydration (-SSH) as well as more biologically stable modifications like S-sulfinylation (-SO2H) and S-sulfonylation (-SO3H). In the past decade, our laboratory has developed first-in-class chemistry-based tools and proteomic methods to advance the field of thiol-based redox biology and oxidative stress. In this Account, we take the reader through the historical aspects of probe development and application in our laboratory, highlighting key advances in our understanding of sulfur chemistry, in the test tube and in living systems. Offering superior resolution, throughput, accuracy, and reproducibility, mass spectrometry (MS)-based proteomics coupled to chemoselective "activity-based" small-molecule probes is the most rigorous technique for global mapping of cysteine OxiPTMs. Herein, we describe the evolution of this field from indirect detection to state-of-the-art site-centric quantitative chemoproteomic approaches that enable mapping of physiological and pathological changes in cysteine oxidation. These methods enable protein and site-level identification, mechanistic studies, mapping fold-changes, and modification stoichiometry. In particular, this Account focuses on activity-based methods for profiling S-sulfenylation, S-sulfinylation, and S-sulfhydration with an eye toward new reactions and methodologies developed in our group as well as their applications that have shed new light on fundamental processes of redox biology. Among several classes of sulfenic acid probes, dimedone-based C-nucleophiles possess superior chemical selectivity and compatibility with tandem MS. Cell-permeable dimedone derivatives with a bioconjugation handle are capable of detecting of S-sulfenylation in living cells. In-depth screening of a C-nucleophile library has yielded several entities with significantly enhanced reactivity over dimedone while maintaining selectivity, and reversible linear C-nucleophiles that enable controlled target release. C-Nucleophiles have also been implemented in tag-switch methods to detect S-sulfhydration. Most recently, activity-based detection of protein S-sulfinylation with electrophilic nitrogen species (ENS), such as C-nitroso compounds and electron deficient diazines, offers significant advantages in simplicity-of-use and target specificity compared to label-free methods. When feasible, the rich information provided by site-centric quantitative proteomics should not be tainted by oxidation artifacts from cell lysis. Therefore, chemoselective probes that function in a native environment with low cytotoxicity, good cell-permeability, and competitive kinetics are desired in modern redox chemoproteomics approaches. As our understanding of sulfur chemistry and redox signaling evolves, newly discovered cysteine OxiPTMs in microorganisms, plants, cells, tissues, and disease models should innovatively promote mechanistic and therapeutic research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural