Mapping of phosphorylation sites of gel-isolated proteins by nanoelectrospray tandem mass spectrometry: potentials and limitations

Anal Chem. 1999 Jan 1;71(1):235-42. doi: 10.1021/ac9804902.


Precursor ion scans have proven to be extremely useful for the characterization of unseparated peptide mixtures. In conjunction with the nanoelectrospray source, precursor ion scans provide a sensitive tool for the detection of posttranslationally modified peptides and have been used to determine phosphorylation sites of proteins digested in solution. In this report, we extend our previous work to the determination of protein phosphorylation sites of gel-isolated proteins. The in-gel digestion procedure developed in our laboratory for protein microsequencing was found to be suitable for phosphorylation mapping as well. The risk of losing hydrophilic peptides in the desalting step was decreased by using column packing material designed for the purification of oligonucleotides and by adjusting the pH conditions to the needs of phosphopeptide analysis. With this method, the tryptic phosphopeptides of beta-casein were detected after in-gel digestion at a sensitivity of 250 fmol of protein applied to the gel. The phosphorylation sites of two other proteins, Src-delta U and Op18, have similarly been mapped. Subpicomole to low-picomole amounts of protein starting material are needed in general, although we and others have reported attomole sensitivity for the detection of model phosphopeptides using precursor ion scans. This indicates that the success in determining phosphorylation sites depends crucially on the digestion, extraction, and detection efficiency for individual phosphopeptides.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Electrophoresis, Polyacrylamide Gel
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phosphorylation
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Proteins / isolation & purification


  • Proteins