A Novel MS-Cleavable Azo Cross-Linker for Peptide Structure Analysis by Free Radical Initiated Peptide Sequencing (FRIPS)

Research Article


The chemical cross-linking/mass spectrometry (MS) approach is a growing research field in structural proteomics that allows gaining insights into protein conformations. It relies on creating distance constraints between cross-linked amino acid side chains that can further be used to derive protein structures. Currently, the most urgent task for designing novel cross-linking principles is an unambiguous and automated assignment of the created cross-linked products. Here, we introduce the homobifunctional, amine-reactive, and water soluble cross-linker azobisimidoester (ABI) as a prototype of a novel class of cross-linkers. The ABI-linker possesses an innovative modular scaffold combining the benefits of collisional activation lability with open shell chemistry. This MS-cleavable cross-linker can be efficiently operated via free radical initiated peptide sequencing (FRIPS) in positive ionization mode. Our proof-of-principle study challenges the gas phase behavior of the ABI-linker for the three amino acids, lysine, leucine, and isoleucine, as well as the model peptide thymopentin. The isomeric amino acids leucine and isoleucine could be discriminated by their characteristic side chain fragments. Collisional activation experiments were conducted via positive electrospray ionization (ESI) on two Orbitrap mass spectrometers. The ABI-mediated formation of odd electron product ions in MS/MS and MS3 experiments was evaluated and compared with a previously described azo-based cross-linker. All cross-linked products were amenable to automated analysis by the MeroX software, underlining the future potential of the ABI-linker for structural proteomics studies.

Graphical Abstract


Azobisimidoester Chemical cross-linking Collisional activation Free radical initiated peptide sequencing (FRIPS) Peptides 



A.S. acknowledges financial support by the DFG (project Si 867/15-2) and the region of Saxony-Anhalt, M.S. acknowledges financial support by the DFG (project SCHA 871/7-2). C.I. is funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Humboldt research fellowship for postdoctoral researchers).

Supplementary material

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© American Society for Mass Spectrometry 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of PharmacyMartin Luther University Halle-WittenbergHalle (Saale)Germany
  2. 2.Department of ChemistryInstitute of Organic Chemistry, University of CologneKӧlnGermany

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