Physico-chemical characterization of metal binding proteins using HPLC-ICP-MS, HPLC-MA-AAS and electrospray-MS

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Fresenius' Journal of Analytical Chemistry





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A size exclusion HPLC method was developed and interfaced with ICP-MS detection for determining the metal profiles of commercially available rabbit liver metallothioneins (MT) and metallothionein-like proteins (MLP) extracted from fresh water mussels and hemolyzed osprey blood. The redox state of the cysteine residues was indirectly evaluated via a cadmium saturation approach in the presence or absence of a reducing agent, followed by HPLC-microatomization (MA)-AAS and HPLC-ICP-MS analyses. An electrospray-MS protocol was also developed to accurately measure the molecular weight of rabbit MT isoform II. Nanogram quantities of Cd-MT/MLP were poorly chromatographed on silica based supports. A copolymeric styrene-divinylbenzene size exclusion support provided a symmetrical peak (rabbit MT standard) and linear HPLC-MA-AAS calibration curves [r=0.9988; from the LOD (27 ng, as protein) to about 300×LOD], indicating negligible losses of Cd during the chromatography of trace quantities. Co-injection of Cd2+ saturated samples with beta-mercaptoethanol (BMSH) was essential to repress Cd2+-support interactions which otherwise induced an undesirable metalaffinity retention mechanism. In the presence of added Cd2+, 22 mmol/L BMSH did not significantly compete for Cd2+ specifically bound to MT, while preventing non-specific binding to non-thiolic complexing sites. Crude mussel and osprey blood MLP extracts (in cold, deoxygenated Tris-HCl buffer) were obtained by ultracentrifugation (145,000 g) and thermocoagulation/centrifugation, respectively. Incubation with BMSH was prerequisite to obtain a maximum saturation of mussel and osprey blood MLP by Cd2+, even for samples conserved (-80° C) in the presence of BMSH (22 mmol/L). These observations indicated that a major proportion of the cysteine residues present in these MLP were oxidized. The assumption of a fully reduced MT/MLP pool binding metals in a definite stoichiometry has been the basis of several quantitative metal binding assays involving the saturation of the thiolic complexing sites with a metallic marker (Ag+, Cd2+, or Hg2+). Since thiolic agents may interfere, the metal saturation protocols do not include a reducing step to ensure that all cysteines in a MT/MLP extract are available for co-ordination. Given that variations in the redox state of crude MT/MLP extracts may compromise the accuracy of metal saturation assays, it is concluded that the preparation of reference samples certified for total metallothionein content would be desirable. © 1995 Springer-Verlag.