PhosphoShield: Improving Trypsin Digestion of Phosphoproteins by Shielding the Negatively Charged Phosphate Moiety

Julia A Bubis*, Vladimir Gorshkov, Mikhail V Gorshkov, Frank Kjeldsen

*Corresponding author for this work

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Protein phosphorylation is a post-translational modification that is essential to cellular signaling, cellular function, and associated disease progression. Bottom-up proteomics based on enzymatic digestion is the most widely used approach for identifying and quantifying phosphoproteins in complex biological samples. Researchers have largely optimized the experimental conditions for trypsin digestion, and it is now a routine procedure. However, trypsin digestion is impaired by the presence of phosphorylated residues in the protein sequence. This impairment arises from the fact that there are commonly salt bridges between a negatively charged phosphate group and the side chain of protonated arginine or lysine. On average, 55% of all phosphopeptides have their phosphosites located less than three amino acid residues from a cleavage site. Salt bridges reduce the cleavage accessibility for trypsin by masking the basic site chain groups of arginine and lysine. Thus, there are frequent missed cleavages in the vicinity of phosphorylation sites, thereby lessening both the depth of proteome coverage and the quantification accuracy of phosphoproteomics. In this work, we propose a method termed PhosphoShield to mitigate salt bridge formation by adding a digallium complex that exhibits a high binding affinity to the phosphate group. We tested our method using quantitative mass spectrometry analysis of the phosphoproteome of human liver cancer cells (HepG2). PhosphoShield enhances the cleavage frequency of at least 17% of tryptic phosphopeptides having cleavage sites close to the phosphate group.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of The American Society for Mass Spectrometry
Issue number10
Pages (from-to)2053-2060
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


  • digallium complex
  • metal affinity
  • missed cleavages
  • phosphoproteomics
  • sample preparation
  • trypsin digestion


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