Tandem mass tag labeling to assess proteome differences between intermediate and very tender beef steaks

J Anim Sci. 2022 Aug 1;100(8):skac042. doi: 10.1093/jas/skac042.


Tenderness is considered as one of the most important quality attributes dictating consumers' overall satisfaction and future purchasing decisions of fresh beef. However, the ability to predict and manage tenderness has proven very challenging due to the numerous factors that contribute to variation in end-product tenderness. Proteomic profiling allows for global examination of differentially abundant proteins in the meat and can provide new insight into biological mechanisms related to meat tenderness. Hence, the objective of this study was to examine proteomic profiles of beef longissimus lumborum (LL) steaks varying in tenderness, with the intention to identify potential biomarkers related to tenderness. For this purpose, beef LL muscle samples were collected from 99 carcasses at 0 and 384 h postmortem. Based on Warner-Bratzler shear force values at 384 h, 16 samples with the highest (intermediate tender, IT) and lowest (very tender, VT) values were selected to be used for proteomic analysis in this study (n = 8 per category). Using tandem mass tag-based proteomics, a total of 876 proteins were identified, of which 51 proteins were differentially abundant (P < 0.05) between the tenderness categories and aging periods. The differentially identified proteins encompassed a wide array of biological processes related to muscle contraction, calcium signaling, metabolism, extracellular matrix organization, chaperone, and apoptosis. A greater (P < 0.05) relative abundance of proteins associated with carbohydrate metabolism and apoptosis, and a lower (P < 0.05) relative abundance of proteins involved in muscle contraction was observed in the VT steaks after aging compared with the IT steaks, suggesting that more proteolysis occurred in the VT steaks. This may be explained by the greater (P < 0.05) abundance of chaperonin and calcium-binding proteins in the IT steaks, which could have limited the extent of postmortem proteolysis in these steaks. In addition, a greater (P < 0.05) abundance of connective tissue proteins was also observed in the IT steaks, which likely contributed to the difference in tenderness due to added background toughness. The established proteomic database obtained in this study may provide a reference for future research regarding potential protein biomarkers that are associated with meat tenderness.

Keywords: apoptosis; beef tenderness; metabolism; proteomics; tandem mass tag.

Plain language summary

Among all the eating quality attributes of beef, tenderness is considered an essential factor influencing consumers’ overall satisfaction and future purchasing decisions. However, managing and predicting tenderness of meat products is challenging for the meat industry, as many factors can influence this attribute. The goal of this research was to examine variations in protein abundance between two categories of beef strip steaks varying in tenderness, with the intention to identify proteins related to beef tenderness/toughness. Overall, the results from this study suggest that tender steaks experienced greater protein degradation during aging than tougher steaks, which likely contributed to their improved tenderness. Furthermore, a greater abundance of connective tissue proteins, which are associated with meat toughness, was observed in the tougher steaks. Our results collectively indicate that the difference in tenderness between the two groups of steaks may be due to multiple proteins involved in several biological processes.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Meat / analysis
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Proteome*
  • Proteomics*
  • Time Factors


  • Proteome