Structural characterization by mass spectrometry of hemoglobin adducts formed after in vivo exposure to methyl bromide

Carcinogenesis. 1996 Dec;17(12):2661-71. doi: 10.1093/carcin/17.12.2661.


A mass spectrometric procedure is described for the structural study of the adducts formed in human hemoglobin by in vitro exposure of erythrocytes to the alkylating agent methyl bromide using different protein to reagent ratios. Peptide mapping by HPLC and tandem mass spectrometry allowed location of methylated amino acids within the protein sequence. A prominent reactivity of several nucleophilic side chains in human hemoglobin subunits was observed, which was modulated by the concentration of the alkylating agent. Cysteine residues, the main reactive sites, were fully methylated in hemoglobin exposed to a 10-fold excess of methyl bromide, differently from other residues, including histidines, showing a heterogeneous pattern of methylation that was largely directed by their environment. No evidence of methylation was found at the heme proximal histidines beta92 and alpha87. A more selective methylation was obtained when the ratio methyl bromide: hemoglobin was lowered to about 1:1. In this last case only specific residues were reactive. Among them, the N-terminal amino group of both alpha- and beta-globins, cysteine 104 in the alpha-chain and cysteine 93 (not cysteine 112) in the beta-chain, indicating a different accessibility to reaction of the sulfhydryl groups on the protein chain. Thus hemoglobin side chains are selectively modified and the degree of modification at each site is a function of the position of the single amino acid residue within the protein quaternary structure, raising the possibility that alterations of structure and functional properties of human hemoglobin following exposure to alkylating agents may be mediated through such covalent protein modifications. The results obtained demonstrate the usefulness of the analytical approach for the characterization of hemoglobin adducts with methyl bromide or similar compounds, which can constitute the basis for biomonitoring of human exposure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alkylation
  • Amino Acids / analysis
  • Binding Sites
  • Hemoglobins / chemistry
  • Hemoglobins / metabolism*
  • Hydrocarbons, Brominated / metabolism*
  • Mass Spectrometry


  • Amino Acids
  • Hemoglobins
  • Hydrocarbons, Brominated
  • methyl bromide