Epitope mapping of SARS-CoV-2 RBDs by hydroxyl radical protein footprinting reveals the importance of including negative antibody controls

Daniel Nyberg Larsen, Jakub Zbigniew Kaczmarek, Yaseelan Palarasah, Jonas Heilskov Graversen, Peter Højrup

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Understanding protein-protein interactions is crucial for drug design and investigating biological processes. Various techniques, such as CryoEM, X-ray spectroscopy, linear epitope mapping, and mass spectrometry-based methods, can be employed to map binding regions on proteins. Commonly used mass spectrometry-based techniques are cross-linking and hydrogen‑deuterium exchange (HDX). Another approach, hydroxyl radical protein footprinting (HRPF), identifies binding residues on proteins but faces challenges due to high initial costs and complex setups. This study introduces a generally applicable method using Fenton chemistry for epitope mapping in a standard mass spectrometry laboratory. It emphasizes the importance of controls, particularly the inclusion of a negative antibody control, not widely utilized in HRPF epitope mapping. Quantification by TMT labelling is introduced to reduce false positives, enabling direct comparison between sample conditions and biological triplicates. Additionally, six technical replicates were incorporated to enhance the depth of analysis. Observations on the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein, Alpha and Delta variants, revealed both binding and opening regions. Significantly changed peptides upon mixing with a negative control antibody suggested structural alterations or nonspecific binding induced by the antibody alone. Integration of negative control antibody experiments and high overlap between biological triplicates led to the exclusion of 40% of significantly changed regions. The final identified binding region correlated with existing literature on neutralizing antibodies against RBD. The presented method offers a straightforward implementation for HRPF analysis in a generic mass spectrometry-based laboratory. Enhanced data reliability was achieved through increased technical and biological replicates alongside negative antibody controls.

Original languageEnglish
Article number141011
JournalBBA Proteins and Proteomics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1. Jul 2024


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