Trace labeling of proteins with stable isotopes to identify fragments in complex mixtures

Juan Zou, Richard G Phelps, Neil Turner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We describe a novel nonradioactive protein-labeling technique that permits mass spectrometric identification of fragments of labeled proteins. Proteins are labeled by modulating their content of carbon-13 and labeled fragments identified from the distinctive isotope pattern observed on MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry. We show that carbon-13 enrichment to just 2.3% of total carbon (about twice the natural abundance of 1.1%) is sufficient for all fragments to be distinguishable from fragments of natural carbon-13-content proteins. Distinguishing labeled fragments is easily accomplished by visual inspection of spectra, but importantly, we show that labeled fragments can also be identified by computer analysis of spectra using novel parameters we have derived. The technique is demonstrated for identification of fragments of carbon-13-enriched glutathione transferase within a complex mixture of unlabeled peptides by visual and computer analysis of MALDI-TOF mass spectra, but it could be developed to mass spectrometrically identify and characterize fragments of labeled proteins recovered from biological systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1445-52
Number of pages8
JournalAnalytical Chemistry
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2004


  • Automation
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Ions
  • Peptides
  • Proteins
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption-Ionization
  • Trypsin


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