Electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry of model peptides reveals diagnostic fragment ions for protein ubiquitination

Maria R. Esteban Warren, Carol E. Parker, Viorel Mocanu, David Klapper, Christoph H. Borchers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


In this work, synthetic peptides were used to determine the fragmentation behavior of ubiquitinated peptides and to find ions diagnostic for peptide ubiquitination. The ubiquitin-calmodulin peptide was chosen as the model peptide for naturally occurring ubiquitinated proteins cleaved with endoproteinase gluC. In addition, the fragmentation behavior of model ubiquitinated peptides produced by tryptic digestion was also of great interest since the standard protocols for proteomics-based protein identification use trypsin as the protease. Attachment of ubiquitin to a target protein results in a branched structure, but only ions from the ubiquitin side chain (and the lysine to which it is attached) can be used as diagnostic ions, since fragment ions that contain other amino acids from the parent protein will vary in mass. Characteristic b-type fragment ions from the gluC cleavage of the ubiquitin side chain (designated as b ions) were found which involve only the ubiquitin tail (b 2, b3, b4, b5 and b6 ions at m/z 189.06, 302.12, 439.18, 552.30 and 651.30, respectively). Maximum production of these ions occurred at a collision energy of 45 eV in a Q-TOF instrument. Although a non-ubiquitinated peptide may produce isobaric fragment ions, it is unlikely that it can produce these ions in combination. With liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry (LC/MS/MS) experiments, ubiquitinated peptides can readily be determined by surveying the reconstructed or extracted ion chromatograms of the diagnostic fragment ions for common peaks. Characteristic ions resulting from tryptic cleavage of the side chain were found in cleavage products with a missed cleavage, resulting in a LRGG- tag instead of a GG- tag. For the LRGG-tagged peptide, diagnostic MS/MS fragment ions (at m/z 270.17 and 384.21) from the ubiquitin tail (b2 and b4, respectively) were found, along with an internal fragment ion (LRGGK-28) at m/z 484.30. These ions should prove useful in precursor-ion scanning experiments for identifying peptides modified by attachment of ubiquitin, and for locating the site of ubiquitin attachment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)429-437
Number of pages9
JournalRapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes


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