A Dielectric Barrier Discharge Plasma Degrades Proteins to Peptides by Cleaving the Peptide Bond

  • Marco Krewing
  • Britta Schubert
  • Julia Elisabeth BandowEmail author
Original Paper


Effects of atmospheric pressure plasmas on proteins are studied to assess the quality of plasma decontamination and to gain insights into plasma-triggered molecular events underlying observations made in plasma medicine on the cellular, organ, and systemic level. Atmospheric pressure plasma treatment has been reported to cause protein degradation. Degradation products, however, have not been characterized. Treating different model proteins in aqueous solution with a DBD plasma, we confirmed with different methods (Bradford assay, application of Lambert–Beer’s law on absorption measurements at 280 nm, ninhydrin assay, size exclusion chromatography, SDS-PAGE) that protein degradation takes place. Peptides of different sizes were detected by size exclusion chromatography. The ninhydrin assay indicated that peptide bonds are cleaved. In the presence of hydroxyl radical scavenger d-mannitol, the concentration of amino termini formed during the initial 10 min of plasma treatment was reduced by 96%, while at longer treatment times mannitol did no longer prevent the formation of amino termini, indicating that hydroxyl radicals play an important role in the initial cleaving of peptide bonds in the protein, but other mechanisms are at play in cleaving the peptide bonds in the resulting peptides. The generation of peptides has implications for plasma decontamination and plasma medicine. It is critical to verify that plasma decontamination processes do not result in protein fragments with undesired properties. In plasma medicine, plasma-generated protein fragments may act as molecular triggers in treated cells, tissues, or patients, e.g., regulating signaling cascades in a protease-like fashion.


Atmospheric pressure non-thermal plasma Amino acids Hydroxyl radical Hydroperoxyl radical Bovine serum albumin 



We thank Abdulkadir Yayci, Franz Narberhaus, and Lars Leichert for the fruitful discussions on this topic and Cinogy for providing the DBD source.


JEB gratefully acknowledges funding from the German Research Foundation (BA 4193/7-1 and CRC1316).


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Applied Microbiology, Faculty of Biology and BiotechnologyRuhr University BochumBochumGermany

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