Fragmentation of intra-peptide and inter-peptide disulfide bonds of proteolytic peptides by nanoESI collision-induced dissociation
Characterisation and identification of disulfide bridges is an important aspect of structural elucidation of proteins. Covalent cysteine-cysteine contacts within the protein give rise to stabilisation of the native tertiary structure of the molecules. Bottom-up identification and sequencing of proteins by mass spectrometry most frequently involves reductive cleavage and alkylation of disulfide links followed by enzymatic digestion. However, when using this approach, information on cysteine-cysteine contacts within the protein is lost. Mass spectrometric characterisation of peptides containing intra-chain disulfides is a challenging analytical task, because peptide bonds within the disulfide loop are believed to be resistant to fragmentation. In this contribution we show recent results on the fragmentation of intra and inter-peptide disulfide bonds of proteolytic peptides by nano electrospray ionisation collision-induced dissociation (nanoESI CID). Disulfide bridge-containing peptides obtained from proteolytic digests were submitted to low-energy nanoESI CID using a quadrupole time-of-flight (Q-TOF) instrument as a mass analyser. Fragmentation of the gaseous peptide ions gave rise to a set of b and y-type fragment ions which enabled derivation of the sequence of the amino acids located outside the disulfide loop. Surprisingly, careful examination of the fragment-ion spectra of peptide ions comprising an intramolecular disulfide bridge revealed the presence of low-abundance fragment ions formed by the cleavage of peptide bonds within the disulfide loop. These fragmentations are preceded by proton-induced asymmetric cleavage of the disulfide bridge giving rise to a modified cysteine containing a disulfohydryl substituent and a dehydroalanine residue on the C-S cleavage site.