Partial acetylation of lysine residues improves intraprotein cross-linking

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Analytical Chemistry









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Intramolecular cross-linking coupled with mass spectrometric identification of cross-linked amino acids is a rapid method for elucidating low-resolution protein tertiary structures or fold families. However, previous cross-linking studies on model proteins, such as cytochrome c and ribonuclease A, identified a limited number of peptide cross-links that are biased toward only a few of the potentially reactive lysine residues. Here, we report an approach to improve the diversity of intramolecular protein cross-linking starting with a systematic quantitation of the reactivity of lysine residues of a model protein, bovine cytochrome c. Relative lysine reactivities among the 18 lysine residues of cytochrome c were determined by the ratio of d0 and acetyl-d3 groups at each lysine after partial acetylation with sulfosuccinimidyl acetate followed by denaturation and quantitative acetylation of remaining unmodified lysines with acetic-d6 anhydride. These lysine reactivities were then compared with theoretically derived pKa and relative solvent accessibility surface values. To ascertain if partial N-acetylation of the most reactive lysine residues prior to cross-linking can redirect and increase the observable Lys-Lys cross-links, partially acetylated bovine cytochrome c was cross-linked with the amine-specific, bis-functional reagent, bis(sulfosuccinimidyl)suberate. After proteolysis and mass spectrometry analysis, partial acetylation was shown to significantly increase the number of observable peptides containing Lys-Lys cross-links, shifting the pattern from the most reactive lysine residues to less reactive ones. More importantly, these additional cross-linked peptides contained novel Lys-Lys cross-link information not seen in the non-acetylated protein and provided additional distance constraints that were consistent with the crystal structure and facilitated the identification of the proper protein fold.