, Volume 20, Issue 6, pp 431-453

Application of the S-Pyridylethylation Reaction to the Elucidation of the Structures and Functions of Proteins

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Cysteine (Cys) and cystine residues in proteins are unstable under conditions used for acid hydrolysis of peptide bonds. To overcome this problem, we proposed the use of the S-pyridylethylation reaction to stabilize Cys residues as pyridylethyl-cysteine (PEC) protein derivatives. This suggestion was based on our observation that two synthetic derivatives formed by pyridylethylation of the SH group of Cys with either 2-vinylpyridine (2-VP) or 4-vinylpyridine (4-VP), designated as S-β-(2-pyridylethyl)-L-cysteine (2-PEC) and S-β-(4-pyridylethyl)-L-cysteine (4-PEC), were stable under acid conditions used to hydrolyze proteins. This was also the case for protein-bound PEC groups. Since their discovery over 30 years ago, pyridylethylation reactions have been widely modified and automated for the analysis of many structurally different proteins at levels as low as 20 picomoles, to determine the primary structures of proteins and to define the influence of SH groups and disulfide bonds on the structures and functional, enzymatic, medical, nutritional, pharmacological, and toxic properties of proteins isolated from plant, microbial, marine, animal, and human sources. Pyridylethylation has been accepted as the best method for the modification of Cys residues in proteins for subsequent analysis and sequence determination. The reaction has also been proposed to measure D-Cys, homocysteine, glutathione, tryptophan, dehydroalanine, and furanthiol food flavors. This integrated overview of the diverse literature on these reactions emphasizes general concepts. It is intended to serve as a resource and guide for further progress based on the reported application of pyridylethylation reactions to more than 150 proteins.