Chemical cross-linking in conjunction with mass spectrometry (MS) can be used for sensitive and rapid investigation of the three-dimensional structure of proteins at low resolution. However, the resulting data are very complex, and on the bioinformatic side, there still exists an urgent need for improving computer software for (semi-) automated cross-linking data analysis. In this study, we have developed dedicated software for rapid and confident identification and validation of cross-linked species using an isotopic labelled cross-linker approach in combination with MS. Deuterated (+4 Da) and non-deuterated (+0 Da) bis(sulfosuccinimidyl)suberate, BS3, was used as homobifunctional cross-linker to tag the cross-linked regions. Peptides generated from proteolysis were separated using high performance liquid chromatography, and peptide mass fingerprinting was obtained for the individual fractions using matrix-assisted laser-desorption ionisation time-of-flight (MALDI TOF) MS. The resulting peptide mass lists were combined and transferred to the program, ProteinXXX, which generated the theoretical mass values of all combinations of cross-linked peptides and dead-end cross-links and compared this to the obtained mass lists. In addition, screening for 4 Da-separated signals aided the identification of potential cross-linked species. Sequence information of these candidates was then obtained using MALDI TOF TOF. The cross-linked peptides could then be validated based on the match of the fragmentation pattern and the theoretical values produced by ProteinXXX. This semi-automated interpretation provided a high analysis speed of cross-linking data, with efficient and confident identification of cross-linked species. Four experiments using different conditions showed a high degree of reproducibility as only 1 and 2 cross-links out of 36 identified was not observed in two experiments. The method was tested using human placenta calreticulin (CRT). Based on the identified cross-links, a few corrections to a model of calreticulin obtained by homology modelling using calnexin as template can be suggested. Furthermore, the cross-links show that the C-terminal of the protein continues along the core region opposite the P-domain for at least 11 residues beyond the known structure. In addition, it was observed that the conformation of CRT does not change significantly in the presence or absence of the divalent ions, Ca2+ and Zn2+.
- Isotope labelling
- Mass spectrometry
- Three-dimensional protein structure